Where’s the Faith? – LGBT Weekly http://lgbtweekly.com Sun, 01 May 2016 14:30:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Laying down our ideas about Jesus http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/04/28/laying-down-our-ideas-about-jesus/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/04/28/laying-down-our-ideas-about-jesus/#respond Thu, 28 Apr 2016 18:51:30 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=70066

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As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

As we follow the stories of Jesus in the gospels, we see that he had somewhat of a flare for drama. I mean, feeding 5,000 people with three little loaves of bread and two fish? And turning water into wine; performing all sorts of miracles, and what about walking on the water!

As we look at the story of Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem, it had a bit of street theater in it. It was an event that took some planning – and it certainly made an impact – one that is celebrated to this day.

So, let’s take a closer look at this story. Jesus is traveling with his disciples, on his way toward Jerusalem, when he stops and gives very specific instructions to two of his disciples. They are to go into a village and get a donkey for Jesus.

Now, if we were there, we might have had a different response to this request. “A donkey? You want a little ‘ole donkey? You know, I think we can find something much better Jesus.” But we are told that the disciples did just as Jesus asked, went into the village, found a donkey, explained to the owners, who apparently were right there as the disciples were stealing their donkey, they explained to the owners why they needed it. And voila! Mission accomplished.

I’m sure there was some more dialogue that happened here, but things got worked out, and the disciples returned to Jesus with the donkey. Now, Jesus didn’t want there to be any confusion, whatsoever, about the message that he was going to be bringing when he arrived in Jerusalem. Riding on a donkey was a way of showing that he was not like a typical triumphant Roman king. This was a message of peace.

As Jesus approaches Jerusalem, people are waving palm branches and throwing their cloaks down and spreading them over the road. This is a common image we have in our minds when we think about Palm Sunday – the palm branches, the cloaks being thrown on the road, the cries of Hosanna, which literally translated from Hebrew means “I beg you to save.” Or, “please deliver us!”

I wonder, does it mean the same thing for us today that it did for the people there in the crowds on that day when Jesus entered?

Of course, we can never know what was going on in the hearts and minds of each person there in the crowds, but I can imagine that for many, when they cried out Hosanna, they were asking to be saved from the Roman Empire at the time. These were political cries, political hopes in a Messiah who would come and defeat the Romans who controlled Jerusalem.

The act of throwing one’s cloak down on the ground was a sign of homage and submission – of laying one’s self down in hopes that the coming King would be able to bring deliverance.

One theologian, Rev. A.W. Cleaveland says, “… that when we see Jesus entering in on the donkey, when we lay down our cloaks … I think what we’re really doing is laying down what we think about who Jesus is, and we’re laying down our ideas about Jesus.” Maybe that’s what some people in the crowd were doing that day.

Maybe it’s something we’re still called to do today. It’s no secret that people disagree. We all have different ideas of who this person Jesus was and is and what it is that he cares about, and what type of life he is calling us to. It’s so easy for us to become sidetracked by our own ideas of God, isn’t it?

And it’s scary how easy it is for us to let our vision of God become so narrow that we don’t allow ourselves to realize that God is so much bigger and grander than we could ever imagine.

And so, as we have heard this story again, some of us may find ourselves in the crowd yelling and cheering and waving our palm branches as Jesus enters into Jerusalem. We may be so excited that our moment of liberation has finally come!

We feel the excitement build, and we see Jesus and our hearts beat even faster, but when the donkey approaches, our grasp tightens around our cloaks, and we don’t want to let go. We don’t want to lay our cloaks down before Jesus. We don’t want to let go of what we think about Jesus, about what we hope to be true.

And as we look into his eyes, those piercing eyes full of love and understanding, we feel a sense of peace, even in the midst of the storm, we feel a wave of unconditional love wash over our wounded spirits bringing healing and hope and wholeness, and somehow we find ourselves loosening the grip, releasing our cloak, letting go.

And as is often the case with Jesus, when he enters Jerusalem that day, he came and turned everything upside down. “The first will be last. The last will be first. The meek will inherit the earth. You have to lose your life to find it …” Jesus didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death.

I am sure those who were welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem could never have guessed this was going to happen. And yet, we are told that they were laying their cloaks down; wouldn’t it be good if we were able to do the same and open ourselves to all that God wants to fulfill in our lives.

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Extravagant affection http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/04/21/extravagant-affection/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/04/21/extravagant-affection/#respond Fri, 22 Apr 2016 01:32:36 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=69921

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As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

You’ve heard of “family of origin” and “family of choice.” Family of origin is the family we were born into or the family that raised us.

Some of us have beautiful relationships with our family of origin, and some of us don’t.

Then there’s a family of choice, where we create our family circle, or are brought into one. A family of choice is life-giving and empowering.

Jesus often gathered in the home of his family of choice, the Bethany family – his dear friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus. As we see in the Gospel of John, this is the place where Jesus goes again and again for refuge, a place to get away and relax a home of his own choosing where he can truly be himself with those he loves and those who love him.

In just the chapter before this morning’s reading, we read that this family had been through a lot – word got to Jesus that his friend Lazarus had died. Jesus was so moved, he wept. By the time he got to the tomb, Lazarus had been dead for four days and Jesus commanded Lazarus to come out of the tomb. Wow! Talk about a roller coaster of emotions! And here he is now, gathered at the table with the people he loves.

While they are there, Mary brings some ointment made of pure nard. Nard was imported from the Himalayan Mountains … so, it was quite exotic. It was also reported to have been worth a full year’s salary! Think about it! A full year’s salary! That’s the kind of perfume you definitely want to buy at a duty-free shop while on some fantastic trip or cruise!

Mary falls down before Jesus and lavishly pours this perfume over his feet and dries them with her hair – even the act of her loosening her hair was going against decorum. Proper women didn’t do this publicly. Yet, this is the type of public display of affection that people can’t turn away from. Even if they tried to turn their heads or look in a different direction to give some privacy, the smell of the expensive perfume fills the room. It’s unavoidable! This multi-sensory display of affection was in many ways extravagant – some would call it shameless, flagrant, brazen, audacious and outrageous. This action, in no way, falls into the category of acceptable behavior.

Now, of course, it’s Judas who objects for economic reasons. He says the money represented by this extravagant display of affection could have been given to the poor. And before we accuse him too quickly, let’s admit he makes a fair point. I mean, Judas shows some of the same characteristics we want in a church treasurer – someone with an eye to detail, someone unafraid to question big expenses, someone who asks the difficult questions about how limited resources might best be used to do the most good.

Jesus responds to Judas’ objection by saying, “Leave her alone. You will always have the poor with you, but you won’t always have me.” (That’s a powerful statement, and unfortunately, this last response of Jesus has been misinterpreted over the years by those who don’t want to take responsibility for caring for the poor – but that couldn’t be further from the point Jesus wants to make.)

Some theologians think the emphasis here is more about the rest of what we know is going on – Jesus is in danger, about to face betrayal, condemnation and death. In this moment, a moment that will never come again, Jesus needs to receive the blessing that Mary needed to give him, a blessing that is a shameless and extravagant display of affection.

In fact, this moment was so important in the life of Jesus that in Matthew’s telling of the story, Jesus praises Mary and says to everyone around, “Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.” This was a pivotal moment on Jesus’ journey.

Now, what can we learn from this story? Perhaps, we can learn something about the sacred value of shamelessness. Author, Brené Brown tells us that shame is an epidemic in our society. And we certainly know the toll it has taken on the LGBT community.

Dr. Brown argues that shame is the source of so many destructive behaviors, including addiction, depression, violence, suicide. Sadly, our religious traditions have sometimes been distorted to be the very thing that has brought shame to us. Both inside and outside the church, way too many people receive the message they aren’t good enough, aren’t pretty enough, aren’t smart enough, talented enough, young enough, thin enough, wealthy enough, powerful enough, and the list could go on and on and on.

Shame hurts our spirits and prevents us from living our best lives. We all need to be reminded, and then believe, we are lovely, and good, and smart, and talented, and powerful.

Who knows if Mary’s extravagant and shameless display of affection might have been exactly what Jesus needed to understand again that he was beloved? Had it not been for this blessing, he might not have been able to find the strength required for him to go from this place to Jerusalem for the events we call his Passion. Who’s to say? We only know it made a huge difference for him.

All of us need to be reminded that we matter, that we are loved. Because, I don’t know about you, but I forget when I get so busy and preoccupied with stuff. There are always going to be negative voices trying to pull us down – we need to be reminded that we are loved unconditionally and beyond measure.

When my mom was fighting cancer and all of the ugliness that comes with it, I decided to tell my mom every day that she’s beautiful. I talked to her on the phone every day and somewhere in the conversation and before we hung up, I told her how beautiful she was. It was intentional.

A couple months before her death, she told me she wanted to make a change in her funeral arrangements. Instead of being cremated, she wanted to have an open casket for the service, and then be cremated. I said, “OK mom, whatever you want.”

Then she told me of how she had always thought she wasn’t pretty enough – and that she didn’t want people to look down into her casket and think, “Oh, poor ugly Betty.” I said, “Mom! You’re beautiful!” And I’ll never forget her reply, “I’ve heard it so many times now, Dan. I believe it, now.” I wept.

I challenge you to live shamelessly, no matter what the negative voices around you are saying. Love yourselves shamelessly, and you will be a blessing and encouragement to those around you. Love each other shamelessly … because at the end of the day – at the end of a life – that’s all that really matters.

Hold onto your faith in a God that loves you unconditionally – that has uniquely gifted you to be a blessing to others. Don’t hide that gift, share that gift.

Mary gives us a beautiful example of extravagant affection. It’s true, what the world needs now is love, sweet love! You never know how your extravagant affection could give someone strength for their journey.

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2016: What would Jesus do? http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/04/14/2016-what-would-jesus-do/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/04/14/2016-what-would-jesus-do/#respond Thu, 14 Apr 2016 22:05:47 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=69702

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Editor’s note: Pastor Dan is away and this week’s column is written by Lee Bowman, Minister of Administration & Communications, MCC San Diego.

By the way, be sure to tune in this week for Meet the Press when Chuck Todd takes an in-depth look at what’s been called a contentious, angry even depressing presidential race with his very special guest, Jesus Christ.

I had you going for a moment, didn’t I? Since Jesus has not given an interview in over 2,000 years, though how can we argue that his presence has not been felt, don’t watch expecting to see him.

Yet, few would argue this is a bizarre political year with high emotions. But let’s talk about the hippopotamus in the room. We are hearing and seeing – not just from a person – but from candidates, campaigns and supporters, talk radio and even preachers, things that are hateful, misogynist, racist, xenophobic, homophobic and inflammatory. And it’s gotten physical. It’s dispiriting, even scary. And don’t you really wonder, if Jesus were here, what would he say; what would he do?

Jesus grew up in a time of political strife. Not only were people living under Roman rule but also under Jewish leaders in tyrannical league with Rome. For religious groups there were Zealots, the Sadducees, the Pharisees and more, and what they all had in common is that they were fearful of, angry with and threatened by Jesus, as much as by Rome. And we think we have it difficult with just two political parties. Jesus was breaking the mold, upsetting the apple cart, bringing change.

We live in a time of fears and doubts. The Great Recession has ended, but the Great Struggling of many has not. As we become even more multicultural, minorities within 30 years will be the collective majority. And that scares some people. Many fear change, or being left behind or losing what they call “power.” Government seems dysfunctional. And Bob Dylan thought “the times, they are a-changing” back in the ’60s! Fears are being manipulated and played upon, even to the point of scaring people about who they may encounter in a restroom.

You see, with peace, true peace among people and peace within, there must necessarily be harmony, accord, balance, respect, understanding, reason, compassion, and there must also be love. What are the opposites of peace? Turmoil, discord, aggression, conflict, hate.

I think the first thing Jesus would say about all that’s happening right now is “Peace be with you.” And then he might, just might, offer some of these suggestions to us:

Pray. Not that a certain candidate gets elected but that there be safety, discernment and appeals to what Lincoln called our “better angels” and not baser instincts and fears. That we sanely debate, not destroy, and have the best outcome for our country.

Learn. Get knowledgeable about the issues and where candidates stand from health care to climate change to criminal justice reform to civil rights. I am amazed when people are interviewed and don’t know who won the Civil War or who the vice-president is but they can tell you the latest bachelor or bachelorette. I mean, there are movements right now to roll back major rights won over the last 50 and 60 years and the progress we have achieved in the LGBT community.

Register to vote. That sounds so easy, so simple, so … duh … but 32 percent, a third, of eligible voters in the U.S. are not registered, well above many other democracies.

Support those, be it individuals or groups or corporations or sports associations or other allies who stand up for us, for human rights and social justice and against hate.

In all that we do and say and encounter, refuse to accept bigotry and prejudice, violence or fear-mongering as any way acceptable or the norm. It’s not us. Sometimes by saying nothing, others can assume we are OK with something.

Focus on what is good and noble, just and right. It is so very easy to be drawn into focusing on the negative, and we can, we must rise above that.

Cher. I mean “share”. Share on Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Email. Blogs. We can be a light. I believe that if Jesus had had social media he would have used it to its fullest. Why? Because what is social media? It’s word-of-mouth, person-to-person; that’s how Jesus’ message was carried by his followers long before even the Jerusalem Union-Tribune. Get involved and let your voice and passion be heard however that works for you.

Have faith and hope. Are we not people of faith? Through many difficult political times and challenges, has God ever abandoned us, has justice not always eventually prevailed?

Finally, vote and get your friends to vote. And if Jesus were here today, who would he vote for? Well, I’m going to tell you. (Oh, we can hear a pin drop now. Is he really going to go there? Who is it going to be?) Jesus would vote for the one who can make a difference. The one who in their compassionate heart follows his teachings. One who has the God-given gifts to reach out and touch people, send his message of love and bring about change. One who knows how to bring people closer to God and one another. Yes, Jesus would vote for … you!

In his initial appearance, Jesus even repeats, “Peace be with you,” and then tells the disciples and us, “As God has sent me, so I send you.” What a vote of confidence.

It was not politicians that brought about the women’s vote, marriage equality, the civil rights movement and justice for farm workers. Oh, eventually they got on the train, and others got run over by it, but it was the Susan B. Anthony’s, the Troy Perry’s, the Rosa Parks’, the Caesar Chavez’s who really brought about change.

Now, you’re the communicator, the messenger; you’re the voter, the one with the power. Jesus has put the ball in your, in our court. What we do with it can make an incredible difference and that can be an awesome discussion topic sometime for Meet the Press. And we pray, sooner rather than later.

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The parable of the Prodigal Son http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/04/07/the-parable-of-the-prodigal-son/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/04/07/the-parable-of-the-prodigal-son/#respond Thu, 07 Apr 2016 18:26:09 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=69545

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As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

The parable of the prodigal son is familiar to many of us, even if you didn’t grow up in church. Jesus used parables as a way of story-telling. The definition of a parable is “a simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson, as told by Jesus in the Gospels.” With the most common synonyms for a parable being “allegory or fable.”

The parable of the prodigal is an attempt to get us to change how we think about God, and once we change that thought, it may just lead to powerful changes in our lives. The parable of the prodigal challenges us to rethink our understanding of divine Love, so that we can trust God’s love more completely and allow it to bless our lives even more abundantly.

Prodigal means “recklessly, extravagantly wasteful.” Now, our first thought is to think of the younger child as being wasteful because the child goes through the inheritance so quickly. But, think about it, the parents are also extravagant, giving the child the entire inheritance so young, and when the inheritance is gone, without hesitation, welcoming the child back to the rich and luxurious household and then giving more gifts and throwing more parties on top of it.

Now, I want you to see something here. The parents in this parable are bountifully, wastefully, extravagantly, generous, giving everything without expecting anything in return. Maybe it’s the story of a prodigal God!

The difference between the prodigal child and the prodigal parents is that the prodigal child spends all the money on selfish pleasures, and whatever happiness all of that brings at the moment cannot, and will not, last.

The parents, symbolizing God, generously spend their money on helping, blessing, uplifting and affirming others. And the joy that kind of giving generates never runs out. God’s “givingness” will never run out.

Theologian, Rev. Durrell Watkins, says that the story of the prodigal not only shows the short-sightedness of the younger child, and the unconditional love and generosity of the parents who represent God, but it also shows the flawed attitude of the older child.

What is the older child doing when the young prodigal returns home? The older child sits in judgment of the younger sibling, feeling superior, more self-righteous and more entitled to the love and largesse of the family. But true love doesn’t work that way. It isn’t earned.

True love can’t be earned, and it can’t be lost. It’s freely given. And the people who need it most, may seem to deserve it least, but all that divine Love encompasses is offered to everyone, always.

In this parable, both sons need to learn that life has plenty for them both. The younger one learns that he can’t lose God’s love no matter what he has done. The older one learns that he doesn’t need to earn God’s love and he doesn’t need to be jealous that others receive it as well even if he thinks they are underserving. The truth is there is plenty of love for everyone. Divine Love never runs out!

Now what about the father in this parable? He is more understanding, more patient, more forgiving and more generous than almost any real parent could be. But isn’t that the point? In our human relationships we find ourselves needing to set limits to protect ourselves or others, needing to hold people accountable so they can’t become abusive or unfair or finding ourselves trying to avoid enabling destructive behavior.

But those are the limits of the human experience. Divine Love has no such limitations. I like how Dr. Watkins put it, “God doesn’t get caught up in our dramas. God doesn’t see through the lens of limitation, fear, greed or selfishness.” That is not divine Love.

God sees only the beauty God created. You are fabulous, unique, strong, amazing, and wonderful! ‘Cause God makes no mistakes!

And as the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8, nothing can separate us from the Love of God, or we could say it this way, nothing can separate us from the Love that God is! Nothing!

God isn’t a loving individual. God is Love itself, and divine Love is higher and greater than any love we have known or can even imagine. I’ve heard people talk in MCC Conferences of how sometimes people who have had a bad experience of religion will say they don’t believe in God. Then one preacher responded, “When they ask me how I can believe in God, I usually ask them, ‘Do you believe in hope? Do you believe in beauty, in love, in peace, in compassion?’ Of course they do. That’s when she tells them, “I choose to call that God, and you don’t.”

Sometimes when we speak of the unconditional, all-inclusive love of an omnipresent God, that divine Love that will not let us go, people get scared. Sometimes they resist such good news. They think, where’s the catch? There is no catch, there is no condition. God says to you, “Come just as you are.”

The story of the prodigal is about how we can trust God to be unconditionally present to us. You can run, but you can’t hide! God’s love is ever-ready, waiting for us, looking for us, celebrating us.

Religion isn’t meant to be fire insurance for the next life. Religion isn’t meant to instill guilt or shame or fear. Religion, at its best, reminds us that God is love and as perfect, eternal Love, God would never, could never and will never let us go!

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From wilderness to renewal http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/03/31/from-wilderness-to-renewal/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/03/31/from-wilderness-to-renewal/#respond Thu, 31 Mar 2016 18:13:41 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=69347

The Temptation of Jesus, carved relief | istock

As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

Like many things in the Bible, whether you see it as literary or literal, we can glean wonderful truths.

There was the flood, 40 days of rain, 40 days on a floating zoo, 40 days of earth cleansing, 40 days of difficulty that will lead to a new beginning and new possibilities, ending with a rainbow promise of God’s everlasting love. Maybe that’s what 40 represents; that long periods of difficulty, disappointment, hardship or uncertainty can be followed by better days.

The days of trouble are a time to learn how resilient we are, a time to summon hope even when situations seem hopeless, a time to imagine the way things could improve, a time for looking for things to celebrate and enjoy, even when the sky seems to be falling, and a time of moving forward toward the experience of healing and renewal.

Moses spent 40 days with God on a mountain.

Moses led his community through a desert for 40 years.

We all have our desert times don’t we? As dry and desolate as they are, the promise of milk and honey keeps us moving forward, or sometimes two steps forward and one step back, but never giving up hope and never accepting that we deserve less than the promised land the journey is meant to help us find. But we have to go through the journey.

It took the spies 40 days to search out the Promised Land and come back with a report.

Goliath taunted the Israelite army for 40 days before David finally took him down.

Elijah spent 40 days on a mountain where he heard the divine voice in the silence.

And Jesus was in the desert for 40 days of temptation.

The number 40 makes the point that times of trial, or searching, or even aimless wandering can be a healing, growing experience where we can become stronger, more confident and we can come out on the other side better than we ever were before!

Jesus goes into the desert, and we see Jesus going through the experience that we all know for ourselves; a time of soul searching, learning, growing and finally emerging healthier, stronger and more confident than we were before.

Now, in this desert experience, Jesus is tempted. This temptation comes from the opposite of God. When we see cruelty, greed, selfishness, oppression, abuse we often name these as evil; the actions caused by wounded souls, hurting people, people who feel frightened or small or insignificant and so they lash out to destroy others so they can feel just a bit more important.

The Greek word for “devil” is “diabolos” which means “slanderous, accusing falsely.” Jesus is falsely accused and tempted by that voice of doubt. Many of us have experienced that voice of self-doubt being planted by a parent or a teacher or a religious tradition that found its way to the endless loop of the CD player in our minds.

I believe God is omnipresent. That being, there’s not a spot where God is not. Omnipresence means there can be no other presence. It is in God that we live and move and have our being, and I believe there is no evil in God.

So, Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, is about to start his mission of affirming all people, of touching the untouchables and reaching out to include those who had been excluded; of empowering people so that they might experience dignity even in the midst of hardship; hope even when situations seem hopeless and self-esteem even when they are being constantly knocked down.

I like how theologian Dr. Watkins put it, “Jesus is about to embark on the soul-uplifting, world-changing, justice-seeking, barrier-breaking ministry and then the hateful voice of doubt pops up to say, ‘Who do you think you are to try something so huge?’”

And what does Jesus do? Jesus argues with that voice without ever suggesting that it could be right or that it had a right to invade his thoughts. He canceled out every lie with an affirmation of truth.

Oh, it’s so important to know the truth; and the truth will set you free! Fill your mind and your spirit with positive affirmations of who you are and whose you are.

Every time that voice came to defeat Jesus, he came back with “It is written …” and “It is said …” The word of truth, the word of empowerment, the word of healing can be more present in our hearts and in our mouths ready for us to speak it. Jesus shows us how to do it. He never said the desert experiences don’t happen, and he doesn’t say the negative voices never get in our heads and try to do damage, but he does show that we can overpower the negative messages with positive affirmations and a belief in our innate dignity and sacred value.

We are all on a journey, it even may be a desert experience for some, but Jesus shows us that there can be healing and renewal even in the desert.

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The transfiguration of Jesus http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/03/24/the-transfiguration-of-jesus/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/03/24/the-transfiguration-of-jesus/#respond Thu, 24 Mar 2016 21:23:18 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=69205

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As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

I love how God speaks to us through the compiled ancient manuscripts that make up the Bible. It is filled with creative artists and wonderful storytellers. The Apostle Mark is one of them where he describes the transfiguration of Jesus.

This story is also found in the Torah (Exodus 24) – and every devout person of the Jewish faith would be familiar with it. The parallel between this story, and what Mark is telling in the Gospel is amazing. It almost feels like Mark is re-telling this familiar story, but is modernizing it by changing the characters to people a bit closer to where Mark and his community could relate to better. Let’s take a closer look at these amazing parallels.

Mark is retelling the story of Moses, someone who heard the voice of God and said “Yes” to leading the people out of slavery; someone who journeyed up a mountain and entering into the divine presence of God, and allowing himself to be so changed that even the world around him changes as well.

In Exodus, the covenant between God and God’s people is reaffirmed. The children of Israel are the children of God. For Mark, Jesus is affirmed as God’s beloved child, and so, any followers of Jesus are also affirmed as God’s beloved children. Parallels? The relational covenant between God and humanity is affirmed in both stories.

The cloud of God’s presence lasts six days in Moses’ story, and Jesus encounters the cloud of God’s presence.

Moses takes companions on his spiritual quest, and Jesus takes companions on his. Parallel? Spirituality is most powerful as a shared, communal experience. Being a part of a spiritual community is powerful!

Moses builds an altar. Peter wants to build a shrine. I like how Rev. Durrell Watkins says, “Peter doesn’t really know what to do or what to say, but knows he’s experiencing something holy and he wants to acknowledge that in some way.”

Now, Peter’s shrine isn’t an altar, but rather a tent, something meant to house or contain the experience. It’s like he wants to freeze time and capture the moment and not move beyond that experience; and that’s a mistake. Mark even says that Peter doesn’t know what to say because he was so terrified. Parallels? We can’t contain the experience – it’s not about living in the past – re-living a wonderful and life-changing experience. It’s about continuing to daily experience the wonderful, life-changing presence of God.

Moses’ companions see divine light as a consuming fire. Jesus’ companions see Jesus transfigured into a being of light. In both situations, divinity is described not as things, but as light; light can’t be touched or molded, but even though it isn’t a thing, it can be powerfully experienced and one is better for experiencing it.

Now, Mark records people from history showing up – Elijah and Moses. And the added characters probably represent something to his community he’s writing to.

Most theologians agree that Moses represents law, but Jesus has shown a tendency to be a liberal interpreter of religious law. In fact, Jesus makes it clear that religion is made for us; we were not made for religion. So, rather than being bound by ancient traditions, Jesus suggests that we should use our own creativity and intelligence to apply inherited religion in new, affirming and life-giving ways. Moses may have been the law-giver, but Jesus is the law interpreter, and his interpretation is always on the side of helping people live with joy.

Elijah represents the prophetic tradition. But the prophets aren’t just in the past; Jesus shows that a prophetic ministry of challenging injustice is still needed, and we are still called to work for peace and justice for all people.

A prophecy suggested that Elijah would one day return. Mark imagines that Elijah has returned in spirit on this occasion. Not to fix things, but to recognize the prophetic work that still needed to be done, according to some theologians.

Mark adds something else not found in Exodus 24. He records God saying, “This is my chosen one, listen to him.” Mark is saying that there is wisdom beyond the ancient texts. Wisdom is beyond dogmas and creeds. Religion isn’t a monument to history; it’s a tool for living in the present.

It’s like he’s saying, “You’ve read Moses. You’ve read Elijah. Now listen to Jesus.” And to Mark. And to Peter. And to Thomas. And to Mary Magdalene. And to the Samaritan woman.

Listen for the voice of God in many places, in the arts, in nature, in poetry, in your own thoughts, in the outcry of the oppressed, in the painful moaning of those who suffer. Listen for the voice of God where you actually live today. Listen to the divine voice urging you to share hope and compassion and healing in the world.

And then we read, “Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.” When they heard the voice of God they no longer saw Moses and Elijah. They were just with themselves, and Jesus, and the present moment.

No more worshiping the past. It’s time to fully live in the present and make a difference in the here and now. God is still speaking.

What a great reminder to remember that we are the beloved children of God, just as we are, we have sacred value. And as the children of God, we have work to do to bring hope and healing to our world. Bringing people closer to God and one another.

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Jesus reveals his truth http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/03/17/jesus-reveals-his-truth/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/03/17/jesus-reveals-his-truth/#respond Thu, 17 Mar 2016 22:16:13 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=68962

istock

As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

Oh how I love that song from Diana Ross, “I’m coming out! I want the world to know. Got to let it show!”

All of us, at some point in our lives, will most likely have to reveal something that is our truth – and that truth is going to go against the wishes and expectations of family, friends and colleagues. To come out about something is always empowering, but not always safe or comfortable. But in my experience, it’s always worth it!

In the Gospels we see how the life and ministry of Jesus gets clearer. Jesus reveals who he is and what he’s all about. Sounds a bit like coming out to me. And Jesus does this in his home; back to the place where he is already known, where his family, friends and neighbors are; this time, letting them know who he really is.

Jesus takes the opportunity as he attends the synagogue in Nazareth. This would be how he would make known to everyone who he was and what he was all about. This is where he would come out.

Jesus was invited to read from the Hebrew Scripture. He takes the scroll, unrolls it, and reads a text chosen from Isaiah. It just happens to be the passage of Isaiah that includes a prophecy of deliverance for Israel, God’s plan for restoration of God’s people from their persecution. As he reads it with such authority and knowingness, the words become his personal testimony, a recounting of his experience of baptism and testing in the wilderness which brings him to this time where he reads:

“The Spirit of our God is upon me; because God has anointed me to bring Good News to those who are poor. God has sent me to proclaim liberty to those held captive, recovery of sight to those who are blind, and release to those in prison – to proclaim the year of God’s favor.”

He rolled up the scroll and sat down. There was something different in the way Jesus read this familiar text. The people sensed that something had happened. It was as if the words seemed somehow more meaningful, more urgent than when read and heard before. Luke records that their eyes were fixed on him; possibly in anticipation of what he would say when he began teaching.

Jesus then said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Today. It all begins today. Now you know who I am and what I am all about. Now we can get to the work of ushering in the reign of God. It all begins today. Jesus had come out!

Jesus didn’t put qualifiers on the people who will benefit from his work; this mission was not just to the poor Jew or the oppressed slave or the blind Gentile or the indebted free person. No, the Good News would be to all people.

And this was a dangerous mission for Jesus to say out loud. To be in solidarity with the poor, the captives, and the oppressed would mean that Jesus would be challenging the systems and structures of domination that were already in place. Coming out in this way meant that whatever his plans were and whatever path he would take would be hard going. In coming out this way, Jesus was making himself a target for all those whose interests were vested in the status quo. So absolute is Jesus’ solidarity with those on the margins of society, and so solid is his commitment to challenging systems of domination that he would, in the eyes of those who wanted to keep the status quo, would have to be stopped. And it all began when he dared to come out about who he was and what he was all about.

We, in 2016, living in San Diego, are faced with a choice. We could use the blessings and power we have been given to challenge the status quo and bring a message of freedom, wholeness and blessing to a people demeaned by systems and structures of domination; or we could take for granted that our blessings are only for our own benefit, given to us as a divine right for personal gain. Jesus chose to see his empowerment as a gift to be used for ushering in the reign of God.

Coming out is not just a one-time process, it’s something we have to continually do in many different settings and circumstances and to many different people. When I came out, my mom wanted me to write a newsletter to our entire extended family. Looking back, maybe there was wisdom in that! Instead, I needed to come out one person at a time, one conversation at a time.

Perhaps, what the world needs now more than ever, are people willing to come out who stand on the side of those on the margins, bringing good news to all those who have been excluded, persecuted and cast aside.

In every prayer we offer, every hymn we sing, every social justice campaign we support, every contribution we make, every person we feed, every prisoner we visit, every person we embrace, every religious minority we respect, every homeless person we help shelter, every person in recovery we encourage, every immigrant we welcome, we show solidarity to the call and mission of the Jesus of Nazareth, who came out to his hometown community as a prophet proclaiming the reign of God to all people. Now that’s Good News! And that’s one powerful coming out story too!

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Life and relationships http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/03/03/life-and-relationships/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/03/03/life-and-relationships/#respond Thu, 03 Mar 2016 22:58:59 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=68649

The Golden Girls

As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

I have a pastor friend, Rev. Durrell Watkins, who said everything he ever needed to know he learned from The Golden Girls. He said, “The Golden Girls offered a sort of corrective for religion gone bad.” Once a year, in the church liturgical calendar, is Ecumenical Sunday. Now how do The Golden Girls fit in here?

First, they formed an ecumenical community. Rose was Lutheran, Blanche was Baptist and Dorothy and her mother Sophia were Catholic. Sophia practiced a form of Catholicism that included rural Sicilian folklore. Many of their friends were Jewish. They didn’t have to all believe the same things as long as they believed in themselves and in one another.

Second, they realized that humanity is diverse and there is something good in all people. And there are all kinds of people in the world of The Golden Girls: Each of the women has a healthy attitude about her sexuality and celebrates her physical experience of life by sharing intimacy with a partner, or in Blanche’s case, a long series of many partners (just an observation, not a judgment!).

Rose has a sister who has lost her sight.

Dorothy has a son who marries an older woman.

Dorothy also has a dear friend who is a lesbian and Blanche has a brother who’s gay.

And Blanche’s widowed father winds up marrying a much younger woman.

Sometimes these differences cause them to need to examine their attitudes and beliefs, but in the end, their love for each other and their dear ones is always what matters most and differences are finally embraced and often celebrated.

Third, they demonstrate the power of generosity. While Blanche owns property, none of the women make enough money on her own to live alone. Sophia lives on a pension and the other three women work part time, until Rose later becomes a television producer. But their limited incomes don’t mean they have to have a limited experience of life. They live together, sharing the burden of the mortgage and utilities and food, and by sharing they find they have plenty and actually live quite a comfortable lifestyle. Sharing empowers them to prosper, and connects them intimately with one another so that they are never alone in moments of need.

Despite their differences, when they behave selfishly and hurt one another, they are reminded that their love for one another is more important than the petty issues that try to divide them from time to time, so they always reconcile, reaffirm their love and commitment to one another, and return to a life of shared joy as a result. They always get back to treating one another with the love and respect with which they would like to be treated themselves – and then there’s always cheesecake! Thank God for cheesecake!

Jesus acknowledges that in communities, people will sometimes act out and cause unnecessary trouble. He challenges the community to deal directly with the person who’s being “cantankerous” and if repeated attempts at direct dealing fail, then the community should stop giving energy to the antagonist all together.

After Jesus talks about direct dealing and fair play, he says that what we bind, will be bound in heaven, and what we loose, will be loosed in heaven. That is, what we hold on to in consciousness sticks with us, and what we release from our habitual thinking and attitudes can no longer drag us down.

Binding and loosing is about forgiving one another. Either by dealing directly with one another and working out our problems, or if that doesn’t work, then moving on and releasing the person who won’t embrace fair play; but one way or another we have to release our animosities, our grudges, our complaining and our bitterness because until we release them, loose them, they remain bound in our souls and they keep us bound and unable to thrive.

Release the hurt feelings. Release the grudges. Release the temptation to gossip. Release the habit of complaining. Release it; let it go. Loose it and move back into the light of healing. It’s a process, and we all have to work on it; God knows I do; but it’s worth the effort.

Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And the truth is we will never love our neighbor until we truly love ourselves.

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Baptism: A symbol that God’s light is within us http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/02/25/baptism-a-symbol-that-gods-light-is-within-us/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/02/25/baptism-a-symbol-that-gods-light-is-within-us/#respond Thu, 25 Feb 2016 21:29:22 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=68460

istock

As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

Recalling our baptism is very meaningful for many of us. I remember, way back in 1969, on a summer Sunday night in Madison, Wis., at Evangel Temple church, I was baptized in the tradition of my church – full immersion, in the dunk tank behind the choir loft. There’s something powerful about it – not just the event, but the meaning attached to it.

Today, we recall Jesus’ baptism as recorded in the gospel of Luke. Let’s put it into context, and remember that the Jewish John the Baptist, baptizing Jewish Jesus, was not something that was in the local synagogue bylaws for the Christian sacrament of baptism as we know it today.

Not all Christians observe baptism. The Salvation Army doesn’t offer an ordinance of baptism. Quakers, also, do not have a baptismal ritual, but believe that real baptism is a life following the teachings of Jesus.

The Christian Science statement about baptism says, “We emphasize the meaning behind a Christian symbol more than the outward practice of a symbolic act. We practice baptism daily by studying the Word of God and living our lives in a way that gives evidence that we are being bathed in Spirit.” Unitarian Universalists usually offer child dedication ceremonies rather than baptism, and they don’t require baptism for membership.

So, when we are speaking about baptism, we need to realize that we don’t all have the same experience or understanding of it.

Baptism, as a rite of passage, is an affirmation of our place in the spiritual community. Baptism is a symbol of divine Love with and within us, never to let us go, is beautiful. Whatever ritual that John the Baptist was offering is not necessarily the one that we hold onto today.

Baptism, for me, doesn’t wash away original sin, nor is it the ritual that allows us status into an elite spiritual club, nor is it a magical rite that assures us of an enjoyable life after this one comes to an end.

Baptism is, for me, a conscious experience, an awareness that we are connected to God, and that we are called to contribute to, share the gifts, talents, passions and skills that we have. In other words, baptism reminds us that God’s light is within us, and then calls us to let that light shine.

The timeline of Jesus beginning his ministry with baptism can be seen as an allegory for how all of us can be immersed in a greater awareness of an omnipresent God, identifying ourselves as children of God, and feeling called to share ourselves in creative and practical ways to bless our spiritual community and our world.

This spiritual baptism can be celebrated in many different forms because the ritual is merely an outward sign of an inward event. And it is the inward event that’s most important. It’s the awareness of God with, in and expressing through us, that is most valuable.

A sacrament isn’t a magical spell that makes something happen; it is an outward sign of an inward grace, and grace is freely given, it is not held from anyone, it can neither be earned, nor lost.

Grace, which is unmerited favor, unconditional love, is simply the reality that divine life is our life; it flows through us, it expresses as us, and it will never and can never abandon us.

So, baptism isn’t about how much water we use, or the age of the person getting baptized. It’s about the decision to consciously follow in the footsteps of Jesus. It’s about taking his life and teaching seriously. It’s about a divine affirmation of our innate goodness. And it’s never too soon, and it’s never too late to celebrate that gift.

Following baptism, Jesus begins his ministry. Baptism is a beginning, a launching pad, a calling forth, a word of encouragement as one is sent out to do something.

I like what Biblical scholar, David Lose says, “And this is where these stories of Jesus’ baptism intersect with the stories of our own. For we, too, can only live into the mission that God has set for us to the degree that we hear and believe the good news that we, too, are beloved children of God. As with Jesus, we discover in baptism who we are by hearing very clearly whose we are. Baptism is nothing less than the promise that we are God’s beloved children. That no matter where we go God will be with us. That no matter what we may do, God is for us and will not abandon us. In baptism we are blessed with the promise of God’s Spirit…”

Baptism doesn’t make that happen; baptism is the celebration that it is already, and forever will be, true. We are loved and our lives are sacred.

That’s baptism. The water is a “party favor,” as it were, but the party itself is the experience of God as our very life, the love that will not let us go, and the omnipresent power that is always with and within us, the eternal love in which we are forever immersed.

Rather than putting a lot of energy into the baptism ritual itself, let’s focus on baptismal living. Let’s focus on the transformational experience of being aware that we are immersed in God, forever connected with God, as God’s precious children, with whom God is well pleased.

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These are the days to rebuild peace and reawaken joy http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/02/18/these-are-the-days-to-rebuild-peace-and-reawaken-joy/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/02/18/these-are-the-days-to-rebuild-peace-and-reawaken-joy/#respond Thu, 18 Feb 2016 21:38:22 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=68260

istock

As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

During the stresses of life, the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians reminds us, “Whatever is true, noble, good, pure, lovely, admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things … and the God of peace will be with you.”

Australian bible scholar William Loader asks, “Do we need to be told that it is a good thing to be elated, to be glad and happy?” And then he answers his own question by saying, “Some, who see Christianity as something dour and serious, need to hear it.”

Mainstream Christianity has unfortunately become associated with fear, blame, shame, name-calling and warnings of doom. Rev. Durrell Watkins said, “From denominations and sects that have predicted (again and again) the end of the world, to gay bashing right from the pulpit, to misogyny disguised as scriptural fidelity, Christianity that most people see, often seems to be focused on division, power struggles and oppressing the “other.”

He goes on to say, “… there are traditions within Christianity that teach their members they are innately depraved. How can we ever be happy if we never really believe that we are good? How is peace and joy possible until we at least consider that we are God’s miracle rather than God’s mistake?”

An old church growth axiom is, “Build up your people and your people will build up your church.” I think the Apostle Paul may have some insight into this positive way of building up a movement by building up its members.

We aren’t here to figure out who to hate, but how to love.

We aren’t here to feel inferior but to celebrate our sacred value.

We don’t need to be shamed into living good lives; we need to believe in the goodness of our lives and once we believe ourselves to be good, good is what we will demonstrate naturally.

If we focus on shame, fear, guilt, sin and sadness, those are the things we will most often experience.

If we focus on how someone else isn’t living up to our standards, we will notice and find a lot more people out there just waiting to disappoint us.

If we focus on what we don’t like about ourselves or others, then what we focus on will show up more and more for us. Psychologists say it doesn’t matter that we don’t like what we see: our focused attention sets our course and we will move in the direction of our focus. We don’t have to like it. Our subconscious minds aren’t making judgments about the quality of our choices; simply put, as we choose to focus on something that is the direction we will move in.

And Paul gives us something to focus on, “Whatever is true, noble, good, pure, lovely, admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things …” In other words, where attention goes, energy flows.

Concentration camp survivor and psychologist Victor Frankl said, “Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms, to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Peace, strength and an increased probability of surviving difficulties come from this chosen attitude of taking responsibility for how one will respond to what is, rather than getting stuck in blame, and regret and despair for what is.

Let’s remember that:

We can go to peace instead of to pieces.

Where attention goes, energy flows.

Attitude is a choice.

These simple, yet powerful truths can be the foundation for a plan for personal peace and joy.

We can’t change the past. We can’t make anyone do things our way. We can’t make people agree with us. We can’t control the weather, the lottery or the things that we hear in the news. But, when things aren’t going our way, we can go to peace instead of to pieces.

We can choose to focus on what is left more than on what is lost, more on what is still possible than on what has gone wrong, more on hope for the future than on regret about the past. Where attention goes, energy flows, and we choose where we place our attention.

As Rev. Dr. Johnnie Coleman has taught throughout her ministry, “I am the thinker that thinks the thought that makes the thing.”

And, what that means is that attitude is a choice. I can’t control everything that happens around or even to me, but I am always in control of how I respond to it, and in my choice of response lies the power of peace and joy.

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Together we can be generous http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/02/11/together-we-can-be-generous/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/02/11/together-we-can-be-generous/#respond Thu, 11 Feb 2016 18:57:59 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=68092

As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” The Gospel of Luke.

We all have the opportunity to be generous. We all have something we can share. Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins wrote a book called The Sacrament of Sharing. This little book is packed with nuggets of gold. And I’d like to share some of those with you.

There are many places in scripture where Jesus and other writers in the Old and New Testament encourage generosity. When we are faithful, consistent and intentional in our generosity it really is a spiritual discipline.

Now, let’s be real, money contains a lot of energy for us. We believe in it. We need it. We work for it. We use it. We value it.

We need money for almost everything in life; from getting an education, to housing, to retirement. We need money for transportation, medical care and for clothing. We need it for going to the movies or Disneyland, for food and to pay taxes so that we can get those services that we don’t pay for in any other way. Money is very important for us.

But more than paying taxes, more than putting a percentage aside for savings and retirement and more than supporting the economy with our spending, there is a spiritual dynamic to money. This attitude goes way back in history.

We attach a lot of energy to money. To give money in the right spirit is to give much, much, more than money. To willingly share our money with a place that builds us up, that encourages us and empowers us, that is a powerful act!

Durrell Watkins says that when we give money in the right spirit, “It is more than sharing cash and coin, it is investing our emotions, a portion of our livelihood; it is giving something that represents so much to us in order to support something that is trying to do so much for us.

And when we give in gratitude, expecting nothing in return, then the joy, hope, love, gratitude and generosity with which we give all comes back to us – multiplied several times over. When we give for the joy of giving, not only do we get the joy of giving, but other blessings too! It’s the way of the divine economy.”

I believe when we intentionally and joyfully share our financial resources, it’s an act of worship. And as you share your resources, I hope you see you’re partnering with the Creator of an abundant universe that has unlimited resources to share with you.

So, what does Jesus mean when he says, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also?”

Jesus isn’t telling us that we will automatically give to what we treasure. I mean, just think how many people enjoy something without fully supporting it, or how many people resent paying taxes even though they are glad for, and even expect, the protection of police and fire departments, and our military and the service of teachers and sanitation workers and clean water.

According to Durrell, what Luke imagines Jesus saying here is, “Where your treasure is, is where your heart already is.”

There’s an old adage that says, “Show me your checkbook or your credit card statement, and I’ll show you what you value most; what’s important to you.”

Yes, it’s good to be generous. It feels good to be generous. We want to be the kind of people who are generous and as we learn to trust that we can be generous, we will grow in our faith, and in happiness and we’ll feel closer to our community and to our spiritual Source that is above all and through all and in all.

“Where your treasure is, is where your heart is.” Heart treasure is about believing that life is inherently good; heart treasure is about attitude. And from that “treasure” place in our hearts, we will be silently nudged by Spirit to share our financial resources, as well as our time and talent. The heart treasure is the attitude from which our lives can be lived, improved, shared and abundantly blessed.

It’s about sharing what we have, supporting what supports us, being grateful for our blessings, and being hopeful in times of struggle and this positive response of sharing comes from our positive attitudes. And attitude is what Luke is talking about in this passage.

This attitude helps us see abundance all around us, this attitude helps us know we are blessed and that we are worthy of being blessed, this attitude tells us we have something to share, this attitude tells us there is always a reason to hope and something to celebrate, this attitude reminds us that God wants us to be truly happy; this is the attitude; this is the “treasure” that will bless our lives every day, no matter what may come our way.

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Sprinting toward your goals http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/02/04/sprinting-toward-your-goals/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/02/04/sprinting-toward-your-goals/#respond Fri, 05 Feb 2016 00:42:00 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=67876

AWSD runners kick off_WTFAs a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

I like this quote from Groucho Marx, “Each morning when I open my eyes I say to myself; ‘I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.’”

In Psalms we read, “This is the day that God has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.” Notice it doesn’t say, “This is the day that God has made, I will rejoice tomorrow – maybe. Or next week, if I don’t have so many problems.” The Psalmist says, “This is the day.” This is the day God wants you to be happy. No one else can ultimately make you happy. The key is to learn how to be happy within yourself.

Sometimes we have to say, “God, I’m going to take what You’ve given me, and I’m going to make the most of it. I’m going to be happy with who You made me to be. I’m going to enjoy my life, in spite of my circumstances.”

You know, your life compared to somebody else’s is a bed of roses. Don’t ever take for granted what God has done for you. You may have some obstacles today, but some people would give anything in the world to have your life. Some people would give anything to have your health and blessings.

We have so much to be grateful for. What would happen if we stopped focusing on what’s wrong and started thanking God for what’s right and good?

Did you know it’s a scientific fact that if you go through life in a negative frame of mind, always stressed out, worried and full of fear, your immune system will weaken, making you more susceptible to sickness?

Think of it! When you stay full of joy, your immune system functions at its peak performance levels. No wonder the writer in Proverbs said, “A merry heart does good – like a medicine.”

One of the healthiest things you can do is learn to smile more often. When we smile, it sends a message to our whole body. Studies tell us when we smile, certain chemicals are released that travel throughout our system, relaxing us and helping us stay healthy.

Scripture also says, “Whatever state you’re in, be content.” Being content means you trust God enough that you don’t get so frustrated when things don’t go your way. You don’t allow circumstances to steal your joy and keep you from being happy. You can decide not to let the little things get the best of you.

As we are striving to live our best life now, based on the book by Rev. Joel Osteen, aim for excellence and integrity in your life. God created us to be people of integrity, people of honor, people who are trustworthy. A person of integrity is open and honest. He doesn’t have any hidden agendas or ulterior motives. A person of integrity is true to her word. She keeps her commitments. When you have integrity, you’ll do what’s right – whether anyone is watching or not.

I know God has great things in store for you. Get up each day expecting good things. Be excited about today. This could be the day things turn around for you.

Stay filled with hope. God wants you to be blessed with abundance – an abundance of joy, an abundance of happiness, surrounded by strong, healthy, rewarding relationships.

God will take you places you’ve never dreamed possible. This is the day that God has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it! Amen.

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Live to give http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/01/28/live-to-give/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/01/28/live-to-give/#respond Thu, 28 Jan 2016 19:02:51 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=67712

iStock

As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

Here at The Met, we believe that God has created us to be Fabulous, Unique, Strong, Amazing and Wonderful – and because of that, we have so much to share with others – so much to give to the world.

I’d like to remind you that when we only focus on ego, focus on meeting only our needs and desires, we miss out on a whole new level of God’s joy. As we get our mind off of ourselves, and look up and see the needs around us, we will open ourselves up to the blessings that God wants to pour into your life.

Based on the book, Your Best Life Now by Joel Osteen, I share these points. Learn the joy of being a giver and not just a taker. God created us to be givers and we will never be truly fulfilled until we learn the simple secret of how to give our life away.

One of the best things you can do if you’re having a problem is to help solve somebody else’s problem. If you want your dreams to come to pass, help someone else fulfill her dreams.

A great perspective to keep in mind is that no matter how big your problem is today, somebody else has a bigger problem, a tougher road, a more heart-wrenching story than yours. You can help make a positive difference in somebody’s life. You can help ease somebody’s burden. You can cheer somebody up, and give them fresh, new hope.

If you’re lonely, don’t sit around feeling sorry for yourself. Go help someone else who’s lonely. Go visit them, invite them over; meet for coffee. Invite them to take a walk along the beach or the park. Take them shopping; go to a movie.

If you’re down and discouraged, don’t just focus on your own melancholy needs. Get your mind off yourself and go help meet someone else’s need.

Maybe you’re thinking, sounds great Dan, but I don’t have anything to give to others? Sure you do! You can give a smile. You can give a hug. You can give an encouraging word. You can cook a dinner for someone. You can be a volunteer in any number of organizations.

Somebody needs what you have to share. Somebody needs your smile. Somebody needs your love. Somebody needs your friendship. Somebody needs your encouragement. You can make a difference in somebody’s life!

I heard an amazing story about a set of twins who were just a few days old. One of them had been born with a serious heart condition and wasn’t expected to live. A few days went by and one baby’s health continued to deteriorate; she was close to death. A hospital nurse asked if she could go against hospital policy and put the babies in the same incubator, together, rather than in individual incubators. It was a big ordeal, but finally the administration and doctor consented to allow the twins to be placed side by side in the same incubator, just as they had been in their mother’s womb.

Somehow, the healthy baby managed to reach over and put her arm around her little sick sister. Before long, and for no apparent reason, her heart began to stabilize and heal. Her blood pressure came up to normal. Her temperature soon followed suit. Little by little she got better and today they are both perfectly healthy children.

A newspaper heard of the story and photographed the twins while still in the incubator, embraced in a hug. They ran the photo with the caption, “The Rescuing Hug.”

Somebody needs your hug today. Somebody needs your love. Somebody needs to feel your touch. You may not realize it, but there is healing in your hands. There is healing in your voice. There is healing in your words and actions.

You have so much to give, so much to offer. When you center your life only around yourself, not only do you miss out on God’s Best life for you, you rob others of the joy and blessings that God wants to give them through you!

Something supernatural happens when we get our eyes off ourselves and turn them to the needs of those around us. We read in Isaiah 58 that “when you feed the hungry, when you clothe the naked, when you encourage the oppressed, then your life is going to break forth like the dawn. Then your healing is going to quickly come.”

In other words, when you reach out to hurting people, that’s when God is going to make sure your needs are supplied. When you focus on being a blessing, God makes sure that you are blessed too.

Let’s get practical. You’ve probably seen some items lying around your house. Clothes you haven’t worn in years, cooking utensils still packed in boxes from your last move, books, dishes, and the list goes on and on. Most clutter experts say, “If you haven’t used an item within the past year, give it away!”

Our world, and our community, is desperate to experience the love and compassion of God. More than any other human attribute, I believe our world is crying out for people with compassion, people who love unconditionally, people who will take some time to help others. Let love lead you through life.

Giving is a spiritual principle. Jesus said, “If you even give as much as a cup of water to somebody in need, I see it and I’m going to reward you.” Amen.

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Come home http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/01/21/come-home/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/01/21/come-home/#respond Thu, 21 Jan 2016 22:11:39 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=67519

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Rev. Dan Koeshall is away. This week’s column is written by Lyn Malone, minister of congregational connection, Metropolitan Community Church San Diego

Who or what is God? Where shall we look for God’s presence? Our sages and philosophers are by no means unanimous in their response. But they seem to agree on one matter: God truly is ultimately unknowable, the Hidden One, infinite, unfathomable, indescribable. Yet, these same sages also dare to try to capture people’s experiences of God in images we know, and can comprehend.

Biblical commentaries gave us images of God weeping at the sight of Egyptians drowning; bound in chains and forced into exile. Liturgy shows us God as an immovable rock; as a shield; as the commander of a host of angels; as a shepherd. And some faiths focus upon the images of God as father and King.

I believe all of these images are metaphors or allusions … never meant to be taken literally, merely that we may imagine God, even if we cannot see God.

Imagine along with me a different image of God; I want to invite you to imagine God as a woman, a woman who is growing older. She moves more slowly now. She cannot stand erect. Her face is lined. Her voice is scratchy. Sometimes she has to strain to hear. Yet, she remembers everything.

On the anniversary of the day in which God gave us birth, God sits down at her kitchen table, opens the photo album, and begins turning the pages; and God remembers.

“There, there is the world when it was new and my children when they were young.” As she turns each page she smiles, seeing before her, like so many dolls in a department store window, all the beautiful colors of our skin, all the varied shapes and sizes of our bodies. She marvels at our accomplishments: the music we have written, the gardens we have planted, the stories we have told, the ideas we have spun.

Then there are the pages she would rather skip. Things she wishes she could forget. She sees her children spoiling the home she created for us, people putting each other in chains. She remembers seeing us racing down dangerous roads. She remembers the dreams she had for us; dreams we never fulfilled. And she remembers the names of all the children lost through war and famine, earthquake and accident, disease and suicide. And God remembers the many times she sat by a bedside weeping that she could not halt the process she herself set into motion.

God lights candles, one for each of her children, millions of candles lighting up the night making it bright as day.

God is lonely, longing for her children. Her body aches for us. God is home, turning the pages of her book. “Come home,” she wants to say to us, “Come Home.” But she won’t call for she is afraid that we will say, “No”. She can anticipate the conversation: “We are so busy. We’d love to see you but we just can’t come now. There is just too much to do.”

Even if we don’t realize it, God knows that our business is just an excuse. She knows that we avoid returning to her. It’s hard for us to face a God who disappointed our childhood expectations. She did not give us everything we wanted. She did not make us winners in battle, successful in business and invincible to pain. We don’t want her to see the disappointment in our eyes. Yet, God would have us come home anyway.

What if we did? What if we did go home and visit God? What might it be like?

Try this on for an idea. God would usher us into her kitchen, seat us at her table and pour two cups of tea. She’s been alone so long that there is much she wants to say. But we barely allow her to get a word in edgewise, for we are afraid of what she might say and we are afraid of silence. Finally she touches her finger to our lips and says, “Shh. Shh. Be still.”

Then she pushes back her chair and says, “Let me have a good look at you.” And she looks, and in a single glance, God sees us as both newly born and dying.

She sees our middle years, when our energy was unlimited. When we kept so busy, keeping care of the family and the house, cared for children, worked, and volunteered – when everyone needed us and we had no time for sleep.

And God sees us in our later years, when we no longer felt so needed; when chaos disrupts the bodily rhythms we had learned to rely upon. She sees us sleeping alone in a room which once slept two. God sees things about us we have forgotten and things we do not yet know.

When she is finished looking at us, God might say, “So tell me, how are you?” Now we are afraid to open our mouths and tell her everything she already knows: who we love; where we hurt; what we have broken or lost; what we wanted to be when we grew up.

So we change the subject. “Remember the time when …”

“Yes, I remember,” she says. Suddenly we are both talking at the same time; saying all the things that were never said.

“What about your future?” she asks us. We do not want to face our future. God hears our reluctance, and she understands.

After many hours of drinking tea, when at last there are no more words, God begins to hum. And we are transported back to a time when our fever wouldn’t break and we couldn’t sleep, exhausted from crying. She picked us up and held us close, supporting our head in the palm of her hands and walked with us. We could feel her heart beating and hear humming from her throat. Oh, that’s where we learned to wipe away the tears. It was from her we learned how to comfort a crying child, how to hold someone in pain.

Then God reaches out and touches our arm, bringing us back to the present and to the future. “You will always be my child,” she says, “but you are no longer a child. Grow old along with me … the last of life for which the first was made.”

We are growing older as God is growing older. How much like her we have become.

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From New Year’s resolution to New Year’s evolution http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/01/07/from-new-years-resolution-to-new-years-evolution/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2016/01/07/from-new-years-resolution-to-new-years-evolution/#respond Thu, 07 Jan 2016 21:14:39 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=67143

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As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

Happy New Year! Many people make New Year’s resolutions, all with good intent like losing weight, exercising, paying off debts, saving money, wanting to be a better person – all good goals. But why don’t New Year’s resolutions last too long? Many are gone by the end of January, and most are gone by the end of July! Why do most resolutions fail?

Life Coach, Alan Cohen, was working with a woman who was burdened by a terrible sense of feeling overwhelmed. She just couldn’t keep up with all the “shoulds” reverberating inside her head; voices of her parents along with other past authority figures. He told her, “There is no way you are ever going to succeed at keeping up with all of your self-imposed obligations.”

“Why is that?”

“There is no joy, intention or true choice in any of them. Your life is one big ‘I have to.’”

Then he suggested she “shift from discipline to ‘blissipine’. You will always succeed at things you choose because they make you happy. You will never succeed at things you do just because you have to out of self-imposed obligations.”

Now, we all have things we have to do, whether we like to or not. And there are other things we would love to do, but we don’t do them! Why’s that?

When we take the time to do the things that fill our soul, the other “stuff” in life becomes easier, lighter and even more enjoyable! You’ve heard of a tipping point? You can create a tipping point in favor of joyful activities by engaging from the heart, rather than only from the head.

I like the idea in an article I read. This year, forget about your New Year’s resolutions and pay more attention to your New Year’s evolutions. Resolutions, many times, are about the will and all the “shoulds” in our lives, of forcing over allowing, of demanding over flowing.

This year, I invite you to consider waking up self-expression and healing, cultivating your authentic self and letting life live through you rather than marching like a Stormtrooper into the black hole of endless obligation. How would that change your life?

“Blissipline” requires a leap of faith. Learn to trust your inner voice and then act on it rather than letting your life be controlled by outside demands that are so internalized you think they are your choices. Your true and authentic choices will flow from love, not fear.

A man was talking with his therapist about looking for direction and not knowing what he should do with his life. Here’s part of the conversation:

“My ex-wife wants me to do one thing, my girlfriend another, my kids another and my boss is pushing me in another direction. What do you think I should do?”

“What would you like to do?”

The man looked confused. “I don’t know. I never thought about that.”

“Take some time to answer that question. It will save your life.”

A few weeks later the therapist received an email from the guy, telling him that the question was the most important one anyone had ever asked him.

When he got in touch with his true choices rather than the choices others were attempting to make for him, he discovered a path that would really work for him. He was grateful beyond words.

It has been said we are the sum of our choices. All the experiences you have ever had have brought you to where you are now. Now all you have to do is honor what makes you happy more than your need to please or prove.

I like what Alan Cohen has to say, “You don’t have to wrestle your destiny to the ground like a big growling bear. Simply cooperate with what wants to happen.”

How can we ever forget how Star Wars: The Force Awakens took the end of 2015 by storm! You know how they say, “May the Force be with you?” That’s a nice wish, but how much stronger would it be if the blessing was “May you be with the Force!” The Force is already with you. You just have to let it work on your behalf.

We live in a world of pressure don’t we? Deadlines and due dates. If you want better results, most of the time relaxation and order works better than pressure and anxiety. If adding more pressure to your life worked, well, then we’d all be a lot happier! Think about it, if something you are doing isn’t working, doing more of it won’t work better.

Now, I’m not suggesting you be lazy or irresponsible. And, ironically, acting from fear is the laziest and most irresponsible attitude, because actions that come from fear are nonproductive. Actions that come from choice and joy bear results that will serve you and everyone else, much better.

This year, resolve to evolve. Goethe said, “As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.” He was echoing the advice of Buddha who said, “Now all that is left is for you to become yourself.”

Let this year’s resolution be to evolve. Let love, joy, peace and abundance take you where you want to go.

Here’s to you! Here’s to a healthy, blessed and joy-filled new year! Happy New Year!

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A spiritual reflection of 2015 http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/12/24/a-spiritual-reflection-of-2015/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/12/24/a-spiritual-reflection-of-2015/#respond Thu, 24 Dec 2015 21:46:12 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=66828

At the Metropolitan Community Church of San Diego, (aka The Met and MCC) we are an open and affirming faith community. With roots in the teachings and spiritual practices of Christianity, we are also respectful of the rich wisdom of other faith traditions.

We affirm each individual as a unique and gifted creation of God. Building on our history of celebrating diversity in sexual orientation, gender and gender identity, we are a congregation that welcomes all people.

We meet people wherever they are on their spiritual journey. People who are around us will experience authentic hospitality and affirming love as we continue to grow in diversity.

We strive to be a beacon for equality, justice, and a force for social change, making a positive difference in our community and beyond and building bridges of understanding and cooperation with people on other spiritual paths.

We rejoiced when marriage equality finally became the law of the land. We strive for greater equality amongst our trans sisters and brothers, the under-employed and the unemployed. We strive to make our faith relevant and meaningful in today’s context.

In this time of strife and struggle in our world, what does it mean for us who claim the Advent of the Christ Child? How are we to participate in and respond faithfully to the ways that the presence of Christ is coming, has come and is changing the world?

During our Advent Season, and all year long, we recognize these are the days to:

Restore Hope

Rebuild Peace

Reawaken Joy

Revitalize Love

Reclaim Christ

We all want peace on Earth. May our lives be living proof of the truth that “peace on Earth” is already here, waiting to become fully manifest – and so we let it be. In other words, we “let there be peace on Earth,” the way God spoke creation into being by saying, “Let there be light.”

The Christmas miracle we experience each year are the gifts of hope, peace, joy and love that comes with the birth of the Christ not “away in a manger,” but in our own hearts.

“Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.”

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Finding strength through adversity http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/12/17/finding-strength-through-adversity/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/12/17/finding-strength-through-adversity/#respond Thu, 17 Dec 2015 17:00:52 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=66662

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As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

This article is about living your best life now based on the book by Rev. Joel Osteen.

We all face challenges in life. We may get knocked down on the outside, but the key to living our best life now is learning how to get back up on the inside.

Our circumstances may force us to sit down for a while, but let’s not stay down. Even when we’re sitting down on the outside, we must see ourselves as standing up on the inside!

Ephesians 6 says, “When you’ve done everything you know how to do, just keep on standing firm.”

You may be in a situation today where you’ve done your best. You’ve prayed. You’ve believed. You’ve mustered up as much faith as you could – but it just doesn’t look like anything is happening. And you’re tempted to say, “What’s the use? It’s never going to change.”

Don’t give up! Keep standing. Keep praying. Keep believing. Keep hoping. Don’t let anyone steal your joy!

Eleanor Roosevelt often said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

No matter what you’re going through or how difficult it may seem, you can stay standing on the inside. It will take courage. It will definitely take determination, but you can do it, if you decide to do it. Act on your will and your intent, not just your emotions.

Change the mentality from being a victim to being a victor and then watch what God will do.

Paul and Silas, two of Christianity’s earliest missionaries, one day were teaching about God and trying to help people. But some of the religious leaders didn’t approve of what Paul and Silas were doing, so they went to the local authorities and falsely accused them of being troublemakers.

The authorities had them arrested, beaten and thrown into prison. Did they start blaming God for their situation? No, in the midst of their adversity, we read that they were singing hymns and praising God. What?

In other words, they were standing up on the inside. When you give God praise and stay in an attitude of faith even in the middle of your adversities, God’s miracle-working power will show up.

We read that at midnight while they were singing praises to God, suddenly there was a great earthquake. The prison doors flew open and the chains fell off!

You may be weary and tired, worn down and ready to give up. You might be saying, “I’m never going to get over this,” or, “My income is so low and my debts are so high, I don’t see how my situation will get better!”

Don’t allow yourself to wave the white flag of surrender. Get out of that defeated mentality, and start thinking and believing positively.

With God’s help you can get back up on the inside. Shout it out loud if you have to: “I’m going to stand in faith even if I have to stand my whole life! I’m not going to give up and settle. I’m going to keep believing for the best!”

When we pray for our dreams to come true, we typically have a time frame in mind. We want it sooner than later!

God’s timing is different than ours. God has an appointed time to answer our prayers. And because we sometimes don’t understand God’s timing, we can live upset and frustrated. “God, where are you?”

When we can understand God’s timing better, we won’t live all stressed out. In Isaiah we read, “God’s ways are higher than our ways. God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts.” That brings me comfort.

We can relax knowing that God loves us. Sometimes we have to wait and trust. And if you know you might have to wait anyway, why not make a decision to enjoy your life while you’re waiting? The more you enjoy your life, the more others will enjoy being around you too.

Our human tendency is to want everything easily. “God, can’t you teach me patience without having to sit in traffic?” “God, can’t you teach me how to love and trust you without ever having a problem?”

Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts. There’s no easy way to mature physically, emotionally or spiritually. There are always growing pains.

We all face adversity – and we need to remind ourselves that whatever is trying to defeat us now could very well be what God will use to bless us later. God can turn our challenges into stepping stones.

Rev. Joel Osteen says, “Adversity often pushes us into our divine destiny.” And sometimes we need that push.

God wants us to constantly be growing, and sometimes God will use a little adversity or some tension to get us moving forward.

God knows just how much you can take – that’s comforting too! When I see people going through really difficult situations, I am in awe of how strong they are! Remember, God is our strength and our rock and our strong tower.

When you feel the pressure of adversity rising, don’t forget that God might be using that situation to get you out of the safe zone and into the faith zone! God, enlarge our faith!

Amen.

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Praying through tragedy http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/12/10/praying-through-tragedy/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/12/10/praying-through-tragedy/#respond Thu, 10 Dec 2015 21:35:57 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=66419

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I remember growing up and listening to the song, “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth.” It was so much fun to play it over and over again on the record player.

What innocence, what a time, when that is all I wanted. Wednesday Dec. 2, someone came into my office looking at his phone and saying, “I’ve got some bad news. It’s happened again.”

Another tragic shooting, this time in San Bernardino. 14 people gunned down while at a Holiday party; celebration and gratitude quickly turned into chaos and tragedy.

This has been played out in our country way too often. We have prayed for so many innocent victims of violence this year alone.

I agree with our president that, sadly, this has become the norm, and it’s not right. My heart is grieved, and I feel like we need to talk about our response to tragedy.

It’s important to acknowledge the terrible reality of mass shootings and tragedies, because only in facing what has happened can we move through the terror and experience the joy that is beyond heartbreak.

In response to the San Bernardino tragedy, and the way too many other tragedies, I asked our congregation to join me in prayer. Why pray?

We’ve been praying for thousands of years and still these things happen. And yet, prayer is the thing we can do. When compassion demands that we demonstrate care, prayer is one way we can always do that. And shared concern and compassion is a healing force in our lives and in our world. Edith Stein said, “Prayer is the highest achievement of which the human spirit is capable.”

Prayer is our affirmation that hope can be resurrected from the ashes of despair, that healing is possible in the aftermath of destruction, and that no matter what has been lost, something good remains, and if we find and focus on the good, it will multiply, and the days to come can be better than the ones behind us.

Abraham Heschel gave a great statement on what prayer can do. He said, “Prayer cannot bring water to parched land, nor mend a broken bridge, nor rebuild a ruined city; but prayer can water an arid soul, mend a broken heart, and rebuild a weakened will.”

We pray for all who have been hurt or terrorized by violence not because prayer will undo the past, but because it says to the hurting there are people standing with you, believing in your resilience, adding their tears to yours, and their hopes to yours, and in that moment of sharing, untold possibilities exist.

And so, we pray. We pray not to persuade God to do what She might otherwise be unwilling to do, but to persuade ourselves that our care and concern are still needed and still make a difference. We pray not to move God, but to motivate ourselves to be His healing hands in the world.

Prayer is also a way of remembering and there is power in remembrance. Sometimes we think that the spiritual thing to do is pretend that pain is less than it is. That doesn’t diminish pain but it does insult and often add to the pain of those suffering. The good news isn’t that pain doesn’t happen, but that pain isn’t the purpose of our lives and that it doesn’t get the last word.

The message of Easter isn’t that Golgotha didn’t happen, but that it wasn’t the last thing to happen! The message of Christmas isn’t that things are always easy, but that even when things are difficult, the divine presence is made manifest in the most unlikely of ways and places.

I’m not suggesting we focus on the tragedy, but that we focus on the possible remedy, and we can’t remedy the tragedy by ignoring it. We can’t fix the problem we won’t name.

We are optimists, but our optimism lies in overcoming the difficulty, not in pretending it didn’t happen. Let’s pray and work and call for systems where there are more reasonable controls on acquiring weaponry and easier access to quality mental health care. This is prayer in action.

Finally, prayer provides the space needed for healing. We so often want to rush to offer easy answers to the complexities and tragedies of life.

When we go through tragedy, I believe God is present in the tears shed, in the hugs shared, in the kindnesses offered, in the communities banding together to renew their hope and find strength in the midst of tragedy.

Peace and justice activist and progressive minister William Sloane Coffin lost his son in a car accident in 1983. A well-meaning person tried to comfort him by saying that God had called his son home. Coffin became furious and snapped, “The hell you say! God didn’t cause my son to die; when my son died God was the first one to shed a tear.”

That is the image of God I hold onto; not a God that causes pain or that could prevent it but refuses to; but rather, a God that stands with us in good times and bad, holding us always, flowing through us, expressing as us, and being most powerfully and noticeably present in our expressions of love.

What the hurting need today, more than anything else, is love. Prayer is one of the ways we can express that love.

Let’s join our hearts and spirits today – praying for those who are hurting. Affirming hope and wholeness for ourselves and others, and holding the frightened and grieving in loving-kindness.

Let there be peace on Earth.

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These are the days to restore hope http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/12/03/these-are-the-days-to-restore-hope/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/12/03/these-are-the-days-to-restore-hope/#respond Thu, 03 Dec 2015 18:22:43 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=66243

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As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

Christianity celebrates Advent as a time or expectation and preparation for the arrival of the Christ child. It has been celebrated since the 400s CE and includes the four Sundays before Christmas Eve.

The first Sunday of Advent focuses on hope.

What is hope? Is hope a kind of wishy-washy optimism? The modern idea of hope is “to wish for, to expect, but without certainty or fulfillment.” We’ve all said things like, “I hope you have a good day,” or “I hope I win the lottery!” Today, I “hope” you will begin to see that real hope is so much more than wishful thinking.

Basically, hope is the emotional state which promotes the belief in a positive outcome related to events and circumstances in one’s life. What is the opposite of hope? The opposite of hope is despair.

Hope is commonly used as a literary concept as a motivating force for change. In the poem by Emily Dickenson we read, “Hope is the thing with feathers which sits on the soul …”

In the field of psychology, we are told that with a sense of hope come positive emotions such as happiness and joy, courage and empowerment. Barbara Frederickson at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill states that when things are not going well or there is uncertainty about how things will turn out “Hope literally opens us up … and removes the blinders of fear and despair and allows us to see the big picture…thus allowing us to become creative.”

Hope is not a static or passive thing. It is dynamic, active, directive and life sustaining. Hope is not an escape from reality or from problems. Hope doesn’t leave us idle. Hope that is real will put us into action.

Hope is a key concept in most major world religions, including Christianity. Romans 15:4 says, “And indeed, everything that was written long ago in scripture was meant to teach us something about hope, from the examples scripture gives us of how people who did not give up were helped by God.”

According to the Hebrew and Greek words translated into English as “hope” the word is an indication of certainty and a positive expectation. Hope is a trustful expectation, the anticipation of a favorable outcome. Hope is synonymous with trust and a confident expectation. Hebrews 11:1 reads, “Now faith is the assurance of what we hope for, the certainty of what we do not see.”

Why do we need hope? Hope frees us from yesterday. You cannot change the past, and I’m not trying to trivialize some of the horrific things that have happened in people’s lives – the loss, the abuse, the pain. But we do have a choice. You can choose to stay in the past, reliving the disappointments and suffering. Or you can choose to move on. You can choose what to think about the various events that have played out in your lives. You can choose how to respond to the challenges, heartaches, and the opportunities that come into your life. Hope is a choice.

Philippians 3:13-14 says, “Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead.” Hope has results. It changes how we see ourselves.

Another reason we need to restore hope is that hope fills us to live today. Hope gives us the power to live out our lives – to live courageously to be all that God has called us to be. In Romans 15:13 we find, “May the God of Hope fill you with all joy and peace … and faith. That by the power of the Holy Spirit your whole life and outlook may be radiant with hope.”

Hope is our anchor in life. With hope we are able to face the challenges of life with boldness and confidence. The prophets of the Hebrew bible knew this as we see in Jeremiah 17:7-8, “But blessed is the person whose trust (hope) is the Lord, whose confidence is in God. This persons will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes, its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

And finally, we need to restore hope because hope forms our tomorrows. Whatever it is that you hope for personally – for good health, for happiness, for a better world where mercy and justice overflow, hope for equality for all people … we have learned that our thoughts help to create our future. When we have hopeful thoughts – hope will form our tomorrows. Robert H. Goddard writes, “It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday, is the hope of today, and the reality of tomorrow.”

This hope comes from understanding who we are as children of God – that we all have sacred value and are created in the image of God. Not only is God for us, but God is in us, expressing as and through us.

God desires that we have hope; Jeremiah 29:11 reads, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares God, plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

Do you have hope today? Whatever your circumstance may be – hope is possible. Allow the Spirit of Hope to fill you this morning and enable you to carry that message of hope to others. No matter what the past may have been – with Hope we can be set free as we believe the Creator of the Universe, the very Spirit which breathes life into each of us every day, is there to free us from yesterday, bringing healing, encouraging us to move forward to face today and all the tomorrows we may be blessed to have.

Strength for today … and bright hope for tomorrow!

Amen

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Reap the benefits of gratitude http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/11/25/reap-the-benefits-of-gratitude/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/11/25/reap-the-benefits-of-gratitude/#respond Wed, 25 Nov 2015 22:04:51 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=66012

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As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

What do you think of when you think of Thanksgiving? Family and friends. Macy’s Day Parade. Turkey and pumpkin pie. Football. Fall weather. Christmas shopping.

So many things and so many feelings fill our hearts and minds this time of the year. My prayer is that you’ll know you’re loved, just as you are, and that you’ll have an opportunity to share that love with someone.

You know, there are benefits of being grateful. And I’d like to suggest that we don’t limit cultivating an attitude of gratitude just on the fourth Thursday of November once a year – but that it becomes part of your life every day of the year! As we express gratitude every day we will reap the benefits. Here are some benefits of expressing gratitude year round that were recently shared with me.

Building stronger relationships

When we are expressing gratitude to a stranger or a loved one, it builds a fabric that is foundational for a stronger relationship. A simple, ‘thank you’ goes a long way. Or, sending a thank you note can really brighten someone’s day. And the more we acknowledge people for their help or kind deed or presence in our lives it encourages them to feel special. Who doesn’t like that?

Encouraging physical health

There is a strong correlation between gratitude and health which has been proven by studies from Forbes Magazine (11-23-14). People who have an attitude of gratitude tend to be healthier. Not only that, they exercise more frequently, visit their doctor for annual checkups and report feeling healthier as well.

Improving your attitude

As we express gratitude it makes us feel more optimistic and positive. This will also help reduce stress and help us improve our attitude. Thank you God, for this!

Boosting your self-esteem

When we have a healthier self-esteem, we are less likely to compare ourselves to other people. And as we keep tabs of all of our blessings and all we have to be grateful for, it helps us maintain this positive perspective.

Improving your mental health

This same study from Forbes Magazine shows that as we express gratitude, it helps us deal better with our emotions and may even help reduce depression. Why not consider keeping a gratitude journal? Try it, you might like it!

Increasing your empathy for others

As we cultivate an attitude of gratitude, we may be less likely to let the negativity from others affect us. Gratitude might make us more sensitive toward other people’s feelings, increasing our empathy for them.

Promoting better sleep

As you’re falling asleep, either write down things you’re grateful for that day, or go over them in your mind as you’re drifting off. This may boost your mood, reduce your stress and help you get a better night’s sleep. Sweet dreams!

Spreading happiness

Being grateful has the power to positively impact your overall feeling of well-being, resulting in you feeling more satisfied with your life and ultimately making you happier. And when you’re happy, it can spread to others.

Let’s make a difference in San Diego! Let’s share love and gratitude to our friends and to the most marginalized in our community.

Happy Thanksgiving! ’Tis the season … to be grateful.

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Let go of the past http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/11/19/let-go-of-the-past/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/11/19/let-go-of-the-past/#respond Thu, 19 Nov 2015 17:57:09 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=65907

istock

As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

Since we’ve started this series of living Your Best Life Now based on the book by Rev. Joel Osteen, we’ve talked about enlarging our vision of compassion, seeing ourselves as God sees us, discovering the power of our thoughts and words, and this article, let’s look at the importance of letting go of the past.

I’m not talking about all of the past – I have so many happy memories of so many friends and loved ones. Great trips and experiences. Romantic times and belly laughs. I cherish those memories – I’m not talking about letting go of those memories, I’m talking about letting go of the painful hurts of the past.

We’ve all had negative things happen to us. We can easily find reasons to have a chip on our shoulder, or blame the past for our bad attitude, poor choices or even anger today.

Most of the time we have valid reasons for feeling the way we do. You may have gone through things that nobody deserves to experience. Perhaps you were physically, verbally, sexually or emotionally abused. Maybe you’ve struggled with a chronic illness or some other inoperable physical problem. Perhaps somebody took advantage of you in business and you lost your life savings as well as your self-esteem.

I don’t mean to minimize those experiences at all. They are real. However, if you want to live your best life now, you cannot use past emotional wounds as an excuse for making poor choices today. Now is the time to allow emotional wounds to heal.

Nobody, not even God, ever promised that life would be fair.

Instead, of living in the hurts of the past, take what God has given you and make the most of it. You may have suffered much, endured great hardships or been though a lot of negative things. You may have deep scars from emotional wounds, but don’t let your past determine your future.

You can’t do anything about what’s already happened to you, but you can choose how you will face what’s in front of you. If you hold on to feelings of bitterness and resentment, they could poison your future. As hard as it is to do, let go of those hurts and pains. Forgive the people who did you wrong. Forgive yourself for the mistakes you’ve made.

You may even need to forgive God. Perhaps you’ve been blaming God for taking your loved ones. Maybe you’re angry at God because your prayers weren’t answered, or some situation didn’t work out the way you had hoped.

Whatever it is, you will never be truly happy as long as you harbor bitterness and unforgiveness in your heart. It’s so important to let go of those negative attitudes and anger. Change the channel and start focusing on the goodness of God.

How many of you are channel flippers – if we see something we don’t like, no big deal – we just change channels. We need to learn how to mentally change channels when negative images of the past pop up in our minds.

Unfortunately, when some people see those negative experiences on their minds’ “screens,” instead of quickly changing channels, they pull up a chair, and get some popcorn, as though they’re going to watch a good movie! They willingly allow themselves to relive all of those hurts and pains. And then they wonder why they are depressed, upset or discouraged.

Learn now to change the channel on negativity; be a channel flipper for positivity. If you’ve had something painful happen to you, don’t let that negative experience define your life. We have to let go of the painful past to bring in the new.

If you’re serious about being well, if you really want to be made whole, don’t stay in your negative situation, get up and move on with your life. Stop making excuses, stop blaming others. Instead, start forgiving the people that hurt you.

Today can be a turning point in your life, a time of new beginnings. Why not begin living your best life now?

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The power in your words http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/11/12/the-power-in-your-words/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/11/12/the-power-in-your-words/#comments Thu, 12 Nov 2015 20:25:57 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=65687

istock

As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

How many of you played on some sort of little league when you were a kid? Picture Sally as a little girl in her backyard going out to practice with a baseball bat and a ball.

Sally says to herself, “I am the best hitter in the world!” Then she throws the ball up in the air and takes a swing at it, but she misses. Without a moment’s hesitation, she picks up the ball and tosses it in the air again, saying as she swings the bat, “I’m the best hitter in the world!” She swings and she misses. Strike two.

She tosses the ball up again, concentrating more intensely, even more determined, saying, “I’m the best hitter in the world!” She swings the bat with all her might. Whiff! Strike three!

Then Sally lays down her bat and smiles real big. “What do you know? I’m the best pitcher in the world!”

Now that’s a great attitude! Sometimes you simply have to choose to see the bright side of situations. When things don’t work out as you planned, rather than complaining, look for something good in your circumstances. Fill your mind with good thoughts.

In Proverbs we read, “As a person thinks in their heart, so they will become.”

When you think positive, excellent thoughts, you will be propelled toward greatness and blessing. We are reminded in Colossians to set our mind on the things which are above.

Notice there is something for us to do; we must continually choose, day in and day out, 24 hours a day, to keep our minds set on the higher things.

In our reading today, the writer to the church in Philippi gives us a great list where we can evaluate our thoughts: “Whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue, if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate (think) on these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

Living your best life now, based on the book by Rev. Joel Osteen, talks about discovering the power of our thoughts and words.

Our thoughts determine our actions, attitude and self-image. Almost like a magnet, we attract what we constantly think about. If you’re thinking positive happy, joyful thoughts, you’re going to be a positive, joyful person, and you’ll attract other happy, upbeat, positive people into your life.

If you’re sick, admit it, but keep your thoughts on your healing. If your body is tired and your spirit is weary, that happens to all of us. Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is to get some rest. And focus your thoughts on the promise that “Those who wait on God shall renew their strength!”

I gently remind you, guard against negative attitudes infecting your thinking! Stay focused on the positive things in life.

Romans 12 reminds us that we can be transformed by the renewing of our mind. If you will transform your mind, you will transform your life.

There is power in your words. Many times our words become self-fulfilling prophecies. That’s why we need to be extremely careful of what we think and especially careful about what we say.

Our words have tremendous power and whether we want to or not, we will give life to what we’re saying, either good or bad.

Remember The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz? Agreement #1: Be impeccable with your word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the power of your word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

Words are like seeds. By speaking them out loud, they are planted in our subconscious, and they take on a life of their own; they take root, grow and produce fruit of the same kind.

If you are struggling with negative thinking about yourself or your situation, I encourage you to go overboard in speaking positive, faith-filled words about your life. Sometimes you have to “fake it ‘til you make it!”

Get up each morning and look in the mirror and say, “I am valuable. I am loved. God has a great plan for my life. I have favor wherever I go. God’s blessings are mine. I’m excited about my future!”

Try it! What do you have to lose? Try it, and see that there truly is power in your words.

I’d like to speak words of declaration in your life.

I declare that you are blessed with God’s supernatural wisdom, and you have a clear direction in your life.

I declare that you are blessed with creativity, with courage, with ability and with abundance.

I declare that you are blessed with a strong will and with self-discipline.

I declare that you are blessed with a great family (either of origin or choice), with good friends, with good health, with faith and favor.

I declare that you are blessed with success and divine protection.

I declare that you are blessed with a positive outlook on life.

I declare that any negative word that has ever been spoken against you is broken right now!

I declare that you are blessed!

Let these words sink deeply into your spirit and become a reality in your life. And so it is. Amen.

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Be happy with who you are http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/11/05/be-happy-with-who-you-are/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/11/05/be-happy-with-who-you-are/#respond Thu, 05 Nov 2015 17:33:32 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=65529

istock

As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

How many of you remember playing the game “Truth or Dare” when you were young? I’d like to give you a truth and a dare. Ready?

The truth is you are God’s masterpiece and you are fabulous, unique, strong, amazing and wonderful, ‘cause God makes no mistakes!

The dare is to believe it! And be happy with who you are right now, accepting yourself, loving yourself faults, wrinkles, bumps and bulges and everything else!

Many of us don’t realize it, but the root cause of many social, physical and emotional problems is simply the fact that we don’t like ourselves. We’re uncomfortable with how we look, or how we talk, or how we act. We’re constantly comparing ourselves with other people, wishing we were something different.

So many people are insecure about who they are, so they constantly try to gain the approval of everyone around them so they can feel better about themselves. It’s not always easy! My process has been about learning to accept, love and integrate all of who God made me to be and then try to be genuine and authentic in all I do. It’s quite a journey, and I’m still on it, and will be for the rest of my life.

The last article I talked about Enlarging Our Vision of Compassion and this week, the second step to living your best life now is developing a healthy self-image; learning to base our self-image and see ourselves the way God, our Creator, sees us, based on the book by Rev. Joel Osteen.

Your self-image is like a self-portrait. Many times our self-image may or may not be an accurate reflection of who you really are, but it is how you perceive yourself to be.

“Who do you think you are?”

Our self-image is not a physical part of our body. It’s more a subconscious “governor” that controls our actions. Every person has an image of themselves. The question is does your image of who you are line up correctly with who God says you are?

God wants us to have healthy, positive self-images, to see ourselves as priceless treasures. God wants us to feel good about ourselves. God knows we’re not perfect, that we all have faults and weaknesses; that we all make mistakes. But the good news is God loves us unconditionally!

We are created in God’s image, and God is continually shaping us, forming us and helping us to become our best selves.

So, let’s learn to love ourselves, faults and all, because that’s how God loves us. You are God’s special masterpiece!

How do you see yourself? Do you see yourself as a victim or a victor?

God sees you as a champion. No matter how you see yourself, that’s how God sees you.

Remember the truth and dare? The truth is that God sees you as strong and courageous, as a victor with great honor and value. The dare is to believe it!

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Live your best life now http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/10/29/live-your-best-life-now/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/10/29/live-your-best-life-now/#respond Thu, 29 Oct 2015 20:28:11 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=65340

istock

As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

Isaiah 43 has always been a comfort to me: The God who created me and formed me says, “Do not fear – For I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”

We can all think of times in our life when we’ve gone through seasons like this; maybe you’re going through one right now, or know someone who is.

This article is based on the book Living Your Best Life Now by Rev. Joel Osteen.

Why is it that some people grab life with enthusiasm and take control of their futures, even in the midst of suffering and setbacks, while others let the future and their fears control them? Happy, successful, fulfilled people have learned how to live their best lives now. They make the most of the present moment, making their future brighter, making the lives of others better through acts of compassion. You can too!

God wants us to break out of a life of mediocrity and of thinking only scarcity and fear. I believe God wants us to experience the full potential that is in each of us!

No matter where you are or what challenges you are facing, you can enjoy your life right now!

You don’t have to wait for “someday.”

Someday, things will be better in my life.

Someday, I will be caught up with my work long enough to enjoy making memories with those I love.

Someday, I’ll earn more money, and I won’t have to worry about how I’ll pay the bills.

Someday, I’m going to get in better physical shape.

Someday, I’ll have a better relationship with God and get more involved in using my gifts and talents.

Unfortunately, “someday” never comes. Today is the only day we have. We can’t do anything about the past, and we don’t know what the future holds. But we can live at our full potential right now!

How do you see yourself accomplishing your dreams? How do you keep a vision of victory in front of you?

What you keep before your eyes will affect you. You will produce what you’re continually seeing in your mind. If all you see is an image of defeat and failure, then you’re going to live that kind of life. But if you develop an image of victory, success, health, abundance, joy, peace, compassion and happiness, nothing on Earth will be able to hold those things from you.

Too many times we get stuck in a rut, thinking we’ve reached our limits. Are we really stretching our faith? Do we really believe for bigger things? God wants to increase you in wisdom and help you to make better decisions. God wants to increase you in health and creativity and compassion.

The Bible says, “Set your mind and keep it on the higher things.” (Colossians 3:2) Each day choose to live with an attitude that expects good things to happen in you … that expects the good to come out in those around you. And even when the circumstances don’t go your way, don’t let that get you down. Keep your mind set in the right direction.

No matter what you’ve gone through in the past, no matter how many setbacks you’ve suffered or who or what has tried to stop your progress, today is a new day, and God wants to do a new thing in your life.

God says, “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing. Do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19) God is always ready to do new things in our lives. The question is: Will we believe?

One of the names for God is El Shaddai, “The God of More than Enough!”

It doesn’t matter what kind of family you come from, what your childhood was like, what’s going on right now – God can change you from a victim to a victor.

You know people who have suffered tremendous loss and suffering in their lives. Some choose to stay a victim for the rest of their lives while others go on and overcome and grow through the obstacles that came their way.

No matter what happens in our lives, we have a God who has promised to always be with us. And God’s promises show that God is faithful and constant.

We come from many different places, but we have one thing in common. This day. This is the day that God has made, and I will rejoice and be glad in it; and we have an opportunity today to let the peace of God that passes all understanding to guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. We have an opportunity to enlarge our vision of compassion, to live our best life now!

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Uniquely gifted http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/10/22/uniquely-gifted/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/10/22/uniquely-gifted/#respond Thu, 22 Oct 2015 17:45:25 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=65175

istock

As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

Volunteers are a very special breed.

They’re not afraid to step in when they see the need.

They’re always willing to lend a hand,

To lift someone up who’s sinking in quicksand.

They always have something encouraging to say,

And they manage to say it in the kindest way.

They share their skills, talents and time.

And in return, they don’t ask for a dime.

So the next time you meet with some volunteers,

Shake their hands, and let them know you’re happy they’re here.

(Anonymous)

We are all on a journey – a spiritual journey – and it’s so nice to know we are not alone. I have a card given to me that says, “Happiness is a journey, not a destination.” I like the idea of being on a journey, of continuously becoming.

Many times we live with the idea of arriving. We see the journey as a way to get to a destination (a means to an end), rather than seeing the value of the journey itself. When I go on a vacation, it’s more about the journey than the destination; sometimes I like to get in the car, or get on a train when I lived in Europe, and see where the journey will take me. There are always wonderful adventures along the way, and I meet the most amazing people on the journey; unexpected blessings. Arrival at any given destination, most times, is secondary to the journey.

This could also be a metaphor for the spiritual life. I might say, “I’ve arrived spiritually, emotionally, mentally,” which implies “I know enough” or “I’ve grown enough,” “I’ve arrived.” But the result is, I can become rigid and defensive, and dig in my heels because arrival means I have a lot to protect and defend … I mean, if I’ve arrived, I have it all figured out. Right?

But “becoming” is a continual journey of never arriving, always growing; being set free to journey deeper into new expressions of the love of God; always recognizing that there is more in my personal experience of God, and that I will continue to discover new and bigger dimensions of God outside of my box, because, God is always bigger than my box.

This was the passion that the early followers of Jesus had. Their spiritual journey, their connection with the teachings of Jesus, their relationship with Jesus caused them to step out of the box of conventional religion. In Christ, they were becoming more than the box could hold.

The earliest Jesus communities lived by the inclusive love of Jesus; a love that embodied greater equality, and dignified the worth of everyone. Perhaps, this is what motivated Paul to write in his letter to the Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male nor female; for all of you are one in Jesus Christ.”

Those three categories (Jew-Greek; slave-free; male-female) were the three great distinctions and boundary lines of worth in Jesus’ time. Paul, motivated by the Christ who lived within him, put an eraser to those distinctions and lines. What distinctions and boundary lines are prevalent in our time? What is God asking you to put an eraser to?

The congregation that Paul ministered to had people from all the classic divisions of culture; men, women, slave, free, Jew and Gentile. And Paul says a wonderful thing; that they were all “members of one another.” Paul was calling for a new kind of community.

In a culture that separated people, Christ united people. To live in this Christ community was to leave behind the old cultural and religious boxes and burst out of them in love-connections with each other.

Paul looked at his congregation and didn’t see distinctions; he saw a more level playing field of people, with each one of them having been given special gifts and abilities; and then he called them to put those gifts to work, to be empowered, to empower each other and to empower the life of the faith community. It wasn’t about serving self or ego, but about serving others and the community. This is how they grew; grew in faith and grew in numbers.

There’s a story about a church blood drive, and they were asking for volunteers to help. One day there was a conversation with two volunteers where one helper insisted that she had no gifts. Her self-image was that there was nothing particularly special or unique about her. Her friend decided to observe what she was doing at the blood drive that day. She was helping get people ready to have their blood drawn. He noticed that many people had a certain amount of anxiety, especially those giving blood for the first time. He also noticed her incredible ability to calm and assure people, especially those with lots of anxiety; to make them feel comfortable and give them a sense of peace and calm.

As he observed her, he thought to himself, “No gifts, huh?” Later that day, he shared with her what he had observed. She said, “I am only doing what comes natural.” “Yes, exactly,” he said, “and what an incredible gift it is to the rest of us here today.”

Paul also told his congregants not to think of themselves more highly than they ought to but with “sober judgment.” He meant it as a challenge to relate to others not with a sense of inferiority like “I have no gifts” or with a sense of superiority like “My gift is better than yours.” It was a challenge by the Apostle Paul to name the gifts we see in each other and then use our gifts to empower others and the community.

Sometimes we are blinded to the beauty and unique miracle of the person right next to us. We are also blinded to our own unique gifts that when shared, deeply fulfill us and satisfy us. Just think of the difference it would make to a faith community, if we intentionally and deliberately lived with that kind of “sober judgment” and identified the gifts we see in each other; lifted them up; named them; celebrated them and encouraged each other to use them to a greater extent to strengthen the community.

This is a call and a challenge for us to live a different way; a selfless way that affirms others, that elevates community to a higher priority and value, and uses our gifts for the sake of others and the building of community.

Like snowflakes, you’ve been uniquely gifted. There’s not another person like you with your gift-mix. Don’t under-estimate the power your gift can have on others and this community.

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Drink in the empowering, life-giving spirit of God http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/10/15/drink-in-the-empowering-life-giving-spirit-of-god-2/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/10/15/drink-in-the-empowering-life-giving-spirit-of-god-2/#respond Thu, 15 Oct 2015 19:00:12 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=64963

istock

As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

In the New Testament of the Bible, it starts out with four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Having four different Gospels is like having four different stations to watch football games (Go Badgers!) – It’s fascinating how they all cover the same events, but with different slants and emphases!

The Gospel of Mark starts with a bang! As the opening credits roll off the screen, there’s an explosion. John the Baptist explodes on the scene. He’s explicitly connected with the OT promises. He’s the one!

The prophets said there would be a messenger, who’d be in the desert, and the message would be “Get ready for the Promised One.”

Here’s John, in the desert, he’s definitely a rugged and furry wilderness guy, and his clothes and food attest to that. And he calls people to repent – to turn to God – a loving God who loves you unconditionally and says “Come just as you are.”

So, John “The Baptizer” is calling people to come out to the desert to be baptized with water, life-giving water, as a symbol of accepting God. And they do!

But John points to something bigger. One much greater is coming. “This One will baptize you not with water, but with a comforting Spirit.”

“Get ready!” “It’s a new day!” I believe in the power of change! I believe that love changes hearts! I have a sense of expectancy about God’s spirit moving in our lives and how, as we take our gifts and give them to God to be blessed and multiplied, God will bless us and others at the same time.

Yoko Ono said, “Remember, each one of us has the power to change the world. Just start thinking peace and the message will spread quicker than you think.”

And, Harriet Tubman, with all of the challenges in her life said, “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”

Today, and every day, God is calling us to drink in the empowering, life-giving, spirit of God.

God is light, and this light brings life to us and shows us our path, shows us our way. And like water, God’s love is life-giving and sustaining. All we have to do is stay connected to God and the best way is through prayer and worship and giving to God our time, talent and treasure.

So, back to our lesson, there was a tremendous response to John’s message. Crowds gathered and people went out to the desert from everywhere. No sooner had the dust settled from this explosion in the desert than something else big happens. Suddenly, we’re introduced to our main character: Jesus.

Jesus, our example, obeys John’s call to come to the desert to prepare for a great future that will change the world forever. Something amazing happens when Jesus gets baptized.

Literally, all heaven breaks loose!

Jesus is baptized, God speaks, and the Spirit descends.

Here’s Jesus, the Son of God, the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit, humbly placing himself in relationship with Creator God. Jesus, once again, is being our example.

Now notice what happens when Jesus acknowledges this relationship. Jesus goes deep into the wilderness to affirm this relationship, to have it tested and strengthened. Here Jesus enters into conflict, struggles, storms and he wins! How did he win? Jesus won by speaking the powerful words of God.

If (and when) you find yourself deep in the wilderness experiences of your life, now, more than ever, you need to guard what you say and not allow any negative, destructive words to come out of your mouth.

I think we create an environment for either good or negative with our words, and you are going to live in that world you’ve created.

If you’re always complaining, and talking about how bad life is treating you, you’re going to live in a pretty miserable, depressing world. You may be tempted to use your words to describe negative situations, but God wants us to use our words to change our negative situations. Don’t just talk about the problem, talk about the solution.

I like what it says in the book, The Four Agreements:

Be impeccable with your word.

“Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.”

The Bible clearly tells us to speak to our mountains. Maybe your mountain is a sickness; perhaps your mountain is finances or a troubled relationship. Whatever your mountain is, you must do more than think about it, more than pray about it; you must speak to that obstacle.

In Proverbs 16:7, we read, “Give thanks with a grateful heart, and now let the weak say I’m strong. Let the oppressed say I’m free. Let the sick say I’m healed. Let the poor say I’m well off.”

“Stop talking to God about how big your mountains are, and start talking to your mountains about how big your God is!”

Let the living water of God’s spirit refresh and renew you.

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Take charge of your thinking http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/10/08/take-charge-of-your-thinking/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/10/08/take-charge-of-your-thinking/#respond Thu, 08 Oct 2015 17:44:54 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=64720

As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

We can all think of giants in the field of “practical spirituality” whose lives have shown the possibility of how we can live our own lives in the direction of our choosing.

Norman Vincent Peale pastored the Marble Collegiate Church in NYC for 52 years. During that time, he started Guideposts magazine, wrote several books including the Power of Positive Thinking, and was one of the first ministers to hire psychologists to his church staff to offer professional therapeutic counseling. He took the mind/body/spirit connection very seriously. Dr. Peale lived to be 95 years old and was active for 94 of those years.

Rev. Ike was a very interesting personality, known as a prosperity preacher, but in reality, he was a metaphysical teacher who was trying to empower people to believe in themselves and experience the best in life. He built a large congregation in the Washington Heights area of NYC, for a time had a very successful television and radio ministry.

Louise Hay is 88 years old and still active. Her story includes surviving child abuse, an unplanned pregnancy, failed relationships, and even cancer. In her 40’s, she became a Religious Science practitioner and went on to create the Hayride which was an empowerment and support group for people living with HIV. The group became very large and eventually was even bi-coastal. Before there were treatments for HIV, there was Louise Hay offering hope and love to people who had experienced way too little of either. She became a bestselling author and even started her own publishing house. She has very effectively demonstrated the power of a raised consciousness.

And Rev. Dr. Johnnie Coleman was told as a young woman that she was terminally ill. She discovered a daily devotional guide full of positive teachings and affirmations, and it changed her life. Her illness went into remission, she became a New Thought minister, started her own school, seminary, and even her own denomination, the Universal Foundation for Better Living, the denomination where Della Reese is a minister.

What did these accomplished leaders share in common? Most of them became bestselling authors and very successful in their ministry. Were they just lucky, or did they understand and use life-principles that served them well and then used those same principles to help others as well?

These life-principles are referred to in the book of Proverbs, also known as the book of Wisdom. Lady Wisdom in Proverbs invites us to her rich banquet. It’s an open table that excludes no one. We are all invited to answer Wisdom’s call and be blessed by Her.

The writer of Ephesians tells us that wisdom comes from joy and gratitude, which are qualities already within us, just waiting to be expressed. Joy and gratitude. As we allow ourselves to experience joy, and find reasons to express gratitude, we can tap into the power of wisdom in our own lives.

It’s a matter of consciousness, as Johnnie Coleman says. Consciousness is what we are aware of … as we focus on joy and gratitude, it focuses our attention, our awareness, our consciousness on what is good, and what we focus on we tend to experience.

Joy and gratitude is the result of choosing where we place our thoughts – from moment to moment. That’s how we answer Wisdom’s call and participate in her abundant feast. Joy and gratitude.

In our reading today, Jesus is represented as bread. Theologian Rev. Durrell Watkins said, “The bread of divine wisdom and eternal life isn’t like manna that just sustained people wandering in the wilderness; this internal sustenance is everlasting, life-giving, and without limit.”

The true bread, the Christ within … is that which is made in the divine image, and that, my friends, is the truth of our lives. We are made in the Divine image of God. You are made in the Divine image of God. Nona Brooks taught that we are in God, and of God, and if that is true, then we are entitled to every blessing that life has to offer.

The Buddha said, “What you think you will become.”

Proverbs 23:7 says, “As we think in our hearts, so we are.”

There are those who want us to be afraid, who want us to not believe in our own sacred value, who want us to live with shame and regret and a sense of smallness.

But our playing small won’t help them or us, so instead, let’s believe in our sacred value, let’s believe in our enormous potential, let’s believe that we deserve the best, that we are made in the divine image of a loving God, that we are a gift and a blessing to the human family, and as we dare to believe in ourselves and experience healing, we won’t be healed alone, but others will be raised up with us, perhaps even some of those who wanted to keep us down.

So, let’s commit today to changing our attitudes so that we actually expect the best, and believe for the best.

Let’s change our mind-set from believing the deck is stacked against us, to believing what the psalmist wrote, “God withholds no good thing from those who live with integrity!”

The hand we’ve been dealt may seem random and not that great, but how we play the hand and how much we enjoy the game is all up to us!

Let’s release the past to the past, knowing the future is filled with infinite possibilities. Let’s choose to focus on the possibilities that we most deserve and desire. Why? Because what we focus on, we will attract.

Let’s fill our thought patterns with positive affirmations and by giving thanks for every blessing, no matter how small – and even for blessings we haven’t experienced yet. What our minds can conceive and believe, we can achieve.

The bread that never runs out, the living bread of heaven, the bread on the all-inclusive table at Wisdom’s feast is ready. So, let’s use our words, our thoughts, our attitudes, and our actions to direct that infinite source of goodness – the living Christ within us to make life more joyous and more abundant.

Every week we pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Are you ready for a little bit more heaven right here on earth? Then let’s not just say it, let’s expect it, give thanks for it, and allow it.

As Rev. Coleman has spent decades teaching, “I am the thinker that thinks the thought that creates the thing.”

Let’s take charge or our thinking and create the best for ourselves, our church, our community and our world. We have the power and we can put it to good use.

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The transformative power of enhanced vision http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/10/01/the-transformative-power-of-enhanced-vision/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/10/01/the-transformative-power-of-enhanced-vision/#respond Thu, 01 Oct 2015 18:00:56 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=64552

istock

As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

In school, I sat toward the front of the class. Not to be a teacher’s pet, but so I could see more clearly. I had my first professional eye exam my senior year in High School. I clearly remember putting on my first pair of glasses. It opened the world up to me in ways I never thought or knew possible. For the first time, I saw the world with clarity and detail. Things were no longer blurred together.

I had no idea what I was missing until I put on my first pair of glasses. Enhanced vision revealed a whole new world and a new way to navigate through life! The gift of enhanced vision was transformative!

To a certain extent, I identify with the blind man in our Gospel reading who said, after Jesus put saliva on his eyes, he could see people but they looked like walking trees. I get that. That’s what it’s like to be near-sighted. Everything is a blur, and you only see big fuzzy shapes (Christmas tree lights are awesome without glasses!) It took another blessing by Jesus to enhance this man’s vision to greater clarity.

Perhaps Mark included this story in his gospel, not just because it was a miracle worth noting, but much more because it was a metaphorical description of the human condition. Let me explain.

Throughout the week I have several opportunities to talk with people – and sometimes the conversation comes up about how crazy this world seems, with what we hear and see on the news, and things that make you just shake your head; and it boils down to them saying, “Pastor Dan, I don’t know, but something is not right; something is just not right with people.”

I agree – many times it does seem as if “something is not right.” We see and experience so much pain and suffering and brokenness and grief and conflict, that we too might say, “Something is just not right!” There’s a word that is often used to describe the “something that is not right,” and in many Christian circles it’s used quite often – and that word is sin.

However, a question that I and many progressive Christians ask is this: “Is sin the best term to describe that “something?” Or, would we understand the “something that is not right” and the solution better if we used multiple images for that “something?”

Think about it, the Bible itself uses multiple images and has multiple solutions to that “something,” but Christianity has mostly disregarded the other images, and as a result has been near-sighted when it comes to viewing the “something that is not right.”

The Bible uses many images for the “something that is not right,” like being in exile, or being in bondage, or becoming lost, or having a closed heart, or experiencing a deep hunger and thirst in the soul, and, in today’s reading, blindness – and these other “somethings” are not exactly the same as sin.

Using multiple images, I think, speaks more authentically to the diversity of experience that exists in our lives, rather than just attributing it to one word.

If I find myself in some kind of exile, the solution has to do with returning home to a life-giving center.

If I am in bondage and oppressed by an outside force, the solution has to do with being set free.

If I have become lost for any number of reasons, the solution is about being found or given a road map to better navigate.

If my heart has been closed because it has been wounded, the solution has to do with being embraced by a healing love that can open my heart.

And if sin, as willfully not loving is the issue, then yes, forgiveness can be an empowering experience that lifts the weight of my guilt and regret.

So, I simply ask, “Should we use sin as a blanket designator and root diagnosis of the “something that is not right?” Or could it be one designator among many biblical images of that “something?”

When I put on my first pair of glasses, the enhanced vision introduced me to a whole new world and a whole new way to navigate through life! The gift of enhanced vision was transformative!

Seeing with the enhanced vision of Jesus usually doesn’t come all at once, but takes a long time – even a life time.

May our eyes and heart be touched so we can see more clearly – and may the gift of enhanced vision be transformative.

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Essence and non-essential http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/09/24/essence-and-non-essential/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/09/24/essence-and-non-essential/#respond Thu, 24 Sep 2015 16:45:51 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=64403

istock

As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

Teachers are wonderful! I applaud our teachers! They make such an impact on us. Who are the teachers who made the biggest impact on your life?

Theologian J. Holub tells of a seminary professor that made it to the top of his list. If a student in his professor’s class stubbornly and persistently elevated something to a place of theological prominence, something that the professor thought was theologically inconsequential; it would light his professor’s fuse. He would quite literally launch into a rant.

And if the student persisted in making the point, the professor would stomp around the room bellowing out one specific word: “Adiaphora, adiaphora, It is so much adiaphora!” The students could never quite detect if he was really as upset as he conveyed, or if it was merely staged as a teaching technique.

Well, if it sounds like Greek to you, it’s because it is! Adiaphora means “indifferent things.” In Christianity, it refers to anything not essential to faith; things that are not meant to be core faith matters, but rather, belong out on the periphery of relative importance – if not completely out of view.

The professor would often make a teaching point after his rants. He would remind the class that the beginning (foundation) of wisdom is the ability to discern between what things are adiaphora and what things are of essence.

Essence has to do with the core nature of something – the heart of something – the guts of something. He taught his class that this process of discerning doesn’t end in seminary – it’s a life-long journey.

It’s not always easy to discern whether something should be considered adiaphora or essence.

In Mark’s Gospel, the faith community here, had made something that was adiaphora into essence. In other words, they moved something that belonged far on the perimeter into the center and made it absolute – and it took a prophetic and challenging voice of discernment to sort it out.

Over and over again, Jesus took issue with those in the faith community who had elevated rituals, practices, laws and traditions to a place of essence. He even calls them hypocrites for the shallow and rigid nature of their faith. In being obsessed with ritual, practice, law and tradition, they had gutted the religion of its essence which Jesus called the “commandment of God.”

A few chapters later, in Mark 12, Jesus defines the “commandment of God” as “loving God with all of your heart and loving your neighbor as you love yourself.” For Jesus, that was the essence. To love God is to love neighbor, and to love neighbor is to love God – that is the essence of religion.

It’s amazing how quickly some are willing to abandon that which Jesus identified as essence in order to pronounce judgment and condemnation on others. They run to their Bibles and cherry-pick a verse from here or there, ripping it out of context, to reinforce a prejudice, or hatred, or to justify self-indulgence: all the while gutting Christianity of its essence – and in the process, create a religion that is harsh, unyielding, rigid and unloving.

Tex Sample, Professor Emeritus of Church and Society at Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Missouri tells a story of his days of youth in Sunday School in Brookhaven, Mississippi. Tex writes about his fifth grade Sunday School teacher, Mr. Doe, he calls him. He said Mr. Doe was the wealthiest and most influential man in town. Tex says that about once a month Mr. Doe would teach that Black people were inferior, that they were subhuman, that slavery had been right, that it was biblical and that segregation was Divine will and should be defended with their lives. (I find it hard to believe that this teaching was allowed in the church …)

In that same church, says Tex, there was a retired missionary named Miss Hattie Bowie. For 30 years she had been a missionary in Korea. She would invite the kids over to her house and show them things she had from Korea, and she would talk about how wonderful the people in Korea were, even though they were very different from them. She even taught the kids the song “Jesus Loves Me” in Korean, which Tex says he can still sing to this day.

Tex says he never remembers a direct confrontation between Hattie and Mr. Doe, but he says it seemed like every time Mr. Doe would make one of his religiously justified prejudicial points, Miss Bowie would make a counter-point.

Tex says, Mr. Doe’s and Hattie’s religions were very different even though they went by the same label, lived in the same town and attended the same church. Mr. Doe used religion to justify his racism thereby making his prejudice essence. But Hattie made Jesus the essence and, in so doing, sent racism beyond adiaphora – and into oblivion. You go, Hattie!

Franciscan mystic, Richard Rohr said, “God is always bigger than you imagined or expected or even hoped. When you see people going to church becoming smaller, instead of larger, more closed rather than more open in love, you have every reason to question whether the practices or rituals or sermons or sacraments or liturgies are opening them to an authentic experience of Divine love.”

Amen.

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Concern for the multitude http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/09/17/concern-for-the-multitude/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/09/17/concern-for-the-multitude/#respond Thu, 17 Sep 2015 20:28:40 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=64244

istock

As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

I love a story about compassion and allowing God to multiply the gifts and talents we already have; and the joy is watching how God uses them to make a huge difference in our life, or someone else’s life or multiple lives!

Let’s take a look at Matthew 14. A crowd had followed Jesus out into the wilderness, and it would be getting dark soon. Concerned, the disciples came to Jesus and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

Well, you can imagine the disciples’ surprise when Jesus said that! “He wants us to do what?” they probably said to each other!

“We only have five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered. “Bring them here to me,” he said. And he directed the people to sit down. It is obvious that Jesus is in charge of the situation.

Taking the five loaves and the two fish, Jesus looked up to heaven and gave thanks and broke the loaves.

Isn’t this a beautiful foreshadowing of The Last Supper? He blessed, broke, then gave … and the disciples gave the food to all the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and then the disciples picked up twelve baskets full of broken pieces that were left over.

What an amazing story! Let’s look at a few truths here:

First, there’s Jesus’ concern for the multitude.

Matthew begins this story by saying, “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick …” Nothing new in that. Throughout the Gospels Jesus shows compassion to everyone – especially the least and the lowest.

Jesus came with one purpose and desire – to seek and save all people to live their best life now. When he gazed out over Jerusalem before entering on a donkey on what we celebrate as Palm Sunday, he wept. Jesus wept. Why? He knew the heartaches, the headaches and the hungers that go with being human. The compassionate Christ cares for each and every one. This is what we are called to do.

Now, to really appreciate the compassion Jesus had for the multitude, remember how the story actually begins: “When Jesus heard what had happened to his good friend, he withdrew by boat, privately, to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns …” Did you catch that?

“When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew to a solitary place.”

What was it that happened? If we go back a few verses, we discover that Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, had just been beheaded by King Herod. How do you think Jesus felt when he got this news? How would you feel? A family member that you were very close to has been the victim of an atrocious crime. No wonder Matthew said that Jesus withdrew to a solitary place. Don’t you think that maybe Jesus wanted to be alone to grieve the death of his cousin? But then Matthew adds, “Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns.”

Jesus can’t even have a few moments alone to grieve. If this had happened to me, I think I wouldn’t feel like seeing a crowd of people coming to me for help. But that’s me, and perhaps that’s you, but that’s not Jesus. Jesus had compassion for the crowd. And he still looks at us with that same compassion today.

But there’s a second thing we need to see: Not only does Jesus have compassion, he’s also capable. Jesus is competent to do for us more than we can even imagine!

Many people have tried to give a rational explanation for the miracle of the fishes and loaves. But when they do that, they miss the point. The important point of this story is that Jesus is able to supply our needs, no matter how he does it.

This may be the point where a lot of us are missing the joy of our faith. We believe God cares about us and our needs, but we don’t really believe that God is able to help us. And so we lead joyless, powerless, just get-through-the-day lives. But what good is compassion without capability? Jesus is able, more than able!

But there’s one more thing that needs to be said: Jesus uses what we give him to work with.

What if that young boy hadn’t been willing to share his five loaves and two fish? I think Jesus would still have found a way to feed that multitude, but think of the blessing that that young boy had as he gave what he had to Jesus – and then saw it blessed and multiplied more than he could’ve even imagined possible! There seems to be a clear principle of faith here: God works with what we have and what we give.

Are there some things in your life that you can use to bring joy into someone else’s life? Jesus has compassion for our needs. And he is able to meet our needs. And sometimes (many times) God uses us to meet the needs of others.

God is able to use us in a wonderful way, if we are willing to take even the little we have and let God bless it and multiply it. God is compassionate and capable. Let us be compassionate and bring love to our world.

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We’ll always have Juneau http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/09/10/well-always-have-juneau/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/09/10/well-always-have-juneau/#respond Thu, 10 Sep 2015 16:19:05 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=64050

Aerial view of Downtown Juneau and the cruise ship port

When I was about 12 I cut a photo from a calendar, framed it and hung it over my bed. It was a picture of Juneau, Alaska, and its harbor. I’d look at it and imagine myself there. It wasn’t as much Juneau as it was Alaska. To this young sheltered kid who had already developed wanderlust, it defined adventure and yes, even escape, and dreams of travel and exploration were born.

In case you’re wondering, it took me over 35 years, and a series of circumstances but in 1996 I made it with a friend to Alaska for two weeks. And yes, Juneau. Let’s look at dreams and God’s role in them. I’ll tell you upfront that I may not give you a lot of answers; but I hope and pray that I leave you with much to think about.

One thing that I have pondered in my faith journey and I bet you have, too, is the whole idea of God granting us the desires of our heart. I mean, really? God does that? Psalm 37:4 says, “Take delight in God, and God will give you the desires of your heart.” It won’t surprise you that it has often been misinterpreted to mean, pray to God, go to church and God will give you what you want. Like “Let’s Make a Deal.” No, the psalmist here is not talking about a Rolex or a yacht, but something more profound and intrinsic. The Hebrew word translated as “delight” meant delicate or sensitive; it’s about seeking our pleasure and happiness, our friendship, in God, in being sensitive to God’s will for our lives.

Even in this modern day, “desire” is a loaded word. Its meanings range from ambition, lust and greed to passion, yearning and love. It’s almost two different words in one. And it’s the latter that the psalmist is addressing, saying be aligned with God in your spirit, with God’s will for your life, and God will place in your heart those desires and dreams that are good and right for you.

Desires, passions, dreams. In a Thesaurus they’re pretty much synonyms. They are deep, personal, even intense. They drive us, excite us, inspire us. They focus our thought and energy.

Sometimes dreams are goals we develop in childhood or inherit from parents or other loved ones. Sometimes they come as a surprise. Once visiting an antique fair where my good friend Jim Petersen had a booth, I came across a wooden, pendulum chiming wall clock. It had never occurred to me before but I suddenly realized, “I’ve always wanted one of those.” After Jim assured me it was a very good buy, I walked out of the fair with it. Much like another God-given passion: I know some time in my life I looked at a man, and though it had never occurred to me before, I suddenly realized, “I’ve always wanted one of those.”

Ultimately I think dreams are just very much a part of our DNA. Perhaps you’ve long dreamed of a specific career or seeing the Eiffel Tower or running a 10K or just finding peace and tranquility in life. Maybe you love football or giraffes or needlepoint or Broadway show tunes and have no idea why. OK. There could be an explanation for the Broadway show tunes. But I assure you that my passions for travel and writing did not come from my parents. In fact, they actually tried to douse them, which perhaps speaks to the resilience of dreams.

If dreams are really imbedded in our hearts, then doesn’t it make sense that they arrive there from someplace special, spiritual, and yes, even sacred? Yet, how do we know we’re hearing God and not our selfish wants or some whim or Baskin-Robbins’ flavor of the month? Maybe fear and self-doubt make it more complicated than it really is, holding us back from just trusting God and giving God the credit.

Fr. Michael Scanlon, former president of Franciscan University, hesitated to become a priest, because he knew that if he did, God would send him to Africa to be a missionary. While many people have a mission to minister in Africa, he hated that idea. Fr. Scanlon eventually shared his concern with his spiritual director, who gave him this insight: If God wanted to send him to Africa, God would put Africa in his heart. And it would be his deepest desire, his calling. Maybe it’s kind of like God putting in our heart to go to Juneau, rather than, say, Bakersfield.

Ultra-conservative evangelist Bill Keller says, “Where do you think you get the passion for the things you care about? From God! God gives each of us the passions and desires we have in our life.” Now, Keller’s theology and mine are about as close as San Diego and San Antonio, but in his statement I think there is a world of truth. He further adds that it is out of our God-given desires and passions that God directs and guides us in service. All of us.

In the words of John Lennon in “Imagine,”“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” What is your dream today? It may be as complex as creating a computer program, saving the rain forests or curing cancer or as simple as growing a garden, volunteering or giving love. You probably didn’t come here today without a Juneau. Some desire in your heart. A passion tugging at you. Or maybe a dream you feel is lost or buried.

Author Jonathan Malm has devised three filters to help us determine if our dream is really from God and give us peace that it is worth validating and pursuing.

Does it ultimately bring glory to God? God created everything for God’s glory. Malm points out that the dream doesn’t have to be labeled with a Christian fish or crucifixes. But it means the dream does not reflect poorly on God. If it’s ethical, honest, heartfelt, demonstrating hope, peace and love, God gets glory in that.

Does it benefit others? One of God’s biggest concerns for our life, as exemplified by Jesus, is how we treat others. A dream that lifts up others, looks out beyond ourselves, promotes the greater good and has universal value is likely going to pass muster here.

Does it seem bigger than what we can handle on our own? That doesn’t mean impossible, but from Malm’s perspective God doesn’t give small, easy dreams. God thinks big. The dream may require us to step out of our comfort zone, get our feet wet or hands muddy and seek the help of others. Even boldly go where no man … or woman … has gone before.

Doesn’t your dream pass the test?

I confess I wrote much of this sermon while I was high. That is, flying to and from Michigan for my 50th high school reunion. 32,000 feet gives you a whole different perspective. At that altitude things seem small … cars, towns, cornfields, interstates. But you realize feelings, emotions, desires and dreams have no constraints. Dreams rise sky high … And last.

In Pixar’s animated masterpiece Up, Carl and Ellie were an unlikely couple, she very outgoing and he quiet and reserved, but they shared two passions. A great love for each other and a dream of going to an imaginary place in South America called Paradise Falls. It was their Juneau. Though they tried hard to save for a trip, life got in the way: A flat tire, injury, home repair and finally Ellie’s failing health. After Ellie’s death Carl’s heart is aching that he didn’t fulfill their dream, their grand adventure. And then he looks through their picture book that Ellie handed back to him from her hospital bed.

In Ellie’s final written words “Thanks for the adventure, now go have a new one,” Carl realizes two things. That one of Ellie’s dreams had indeed come true: a wonderful life with a spouse she loved. And that the dream of Paradise Falls was still alive; it wasn’t too late. And in the movie, with the help of thousands of helium balloons that dream comes true.

I admit it. One of my dreams has always been having a partner. I know it fits that three point criteria I shared, and I’m not letting go of it. But how do you keep a dream alive and wait patiently? That’s a whole ‘nother sermon. Yet, doesn’t the scripture talk about God granting the desires of our heart? Desires. Notice that: plural, not singular. I do have other dreams still germinating. Travel, photography, the great American novel. A close friend repeatedly tells me write, write, write and gave me an inspirational reminder poster that simply says “Follow Your Dreams.”

Let’s hold fast to our dreams. As Humphrey Bogart famously said to Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca,“We’ll always have Juneau.” OK, it was really Paris, but you get the idea. Let us always have our dreams. Be open to that antique clock when it presents itself and grab on to it. Know that dreams may change or evolve or morph. But most of all, acknowledge your dreams, your desires. Name them. Pray and meditate about them. Be confident that that’s not selfish. As long as they pass the filters, trust them and that they are not just of your own doing. Let them lift you up. Embrace them. Follow them and put effort into them. In faith, let yourself go to that place over the rainbow where “the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.”

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The time is now http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/09/03/the-time-is-now/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/09/03/the-time-is-now/#respond Thu, 03 Sep 2015 16:48:02 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=63874

iStock

As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

“For everything there is a season and a time …”

Time! So, what is time? Have you got the time? We use the word all the time.

The ancient Greeks had a couple of words for “time” – kairos and chronos.

Chronos is about chronological time: ordinary time; clock time. Chronos is what we mean when we ask, “What time is your appointment?” “What was her time in the 100 meter freestyle?”

Chronos time is easy to measure with watches, clocks and calendars. Sometimes we can feel like we are slaves to chronos time, and you might have heard, “There’s just not enough time! I need more time!”

In order to manage chronos we have calendars, day planners; some are so high tech that all of our chronos events are linked by the cloud to help us get to the places we need, and the people we need to see, “on time.”

However, kairos time is not like chronos time. Kairos time is completely different. Our reading in Ecclesiastes is about kairos time. Kairos, we could say, is another dimension of time. Kairos is the “right time”; the “appropriate time”; or the “time of opportunity.”

Kairos cannot be measured with clocks and calendars. Kairos time is perceived with wisdom and discernment and beats to the rhythm of love and compassion, instead of seconds.

The Bible is filled with examples of kairos time. When Mark presented Jesus arriving on the scene in his gospel with these words, “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the good news”, he was not referring to a date on the calendar, but he was speaking of the opportunity to move in a radically new life-direction through new life in Jesus.

What might be helpful to better understand kairos time is to think of kairos as the dimension of time where the Spirit of God lives and moves and works freely and spontaneously; God time; or Divine time.

A kairos moment almost always comes unexpected, and when it does, an opportunity presents itself. Now being able to see that opportunity is another thing! The phone rings, an email appears, someone drops by, you get a text, a crisis occurs that calls for my attention, or compassion, or a listening ear, or a comforting heart, or help with someone’s need, or a simple prayer, or an affirmation, whatever. A kairos opportunity is not written in my chronos calendar, it simply presents itself.

If I am so rigidly bound by my chronos calendar and my perception of reality is limited to just that dimension, I am likely to marginalize the kairos moment, and even excuse myself from it, by saying, “Sorry, I don’t have the time.”

The ironic thing about it is that life experience has repeatedly taught me that I most often experience a God-Presence in the kairos moments of unexpected opportunity rather than in my carefully planned chronos daily calendar.

I’d like to talk about some kairos opportunities that present themselves any time of the year; kairos opportunities using three “C” words.

First, commitment.

“For everything there is a season and a time …” Many congregations resemble going to a sporting event. By that I mean, the arena is full of people, and it’s a good experience for most, but the overwhelming majority of the people are sitting in the bleachers cheering the players on.

Now is a time for commitment. Now is not the time to withdraw to the back rows of the bleachers and just cheer the players on. Now is the time to engage. There is much work to be done.

Second, community.

Now is the time for community. One of our core values is community. Our deep desire is to offer a safe and open community for people to worship, learn and grow in their faith. We are committed to equipping ourselves and each other to do the work that God has called us to do in the world.

Unity is found in community. Let’s reach out to those who are new in our community; let’s draw from each other’s strengths; let’s celebrate the role of our faith community in the larger community. Now is the time for community.

Third, continuity.

Now is the time for continuity. We have just celebrated 45 years of bringing people closer to God and one another. What a great mission! We have a great foundation; let’s continue to build on that.

We are an open and affirming faith community. With roots in the teachings and spiritual practices of Christianity, we are also respectful of the rich wisdom of other faith traditions. How honored I was to be able to give the invocation at The Center with my beautiful colleague, Rabbi Laurie.

We affirm each individual as a unique and gifted creation of God. Building on our history of celebrating diversity in sexual orientation, gender and gender identity, we are a congregation that welcomes all people.

We are called to:

Teach and practice the Good News of God’s unconditional love for all people

Welcome home those who have been spiritually wounded or are seeking or growing a relationship with God

Actively promote equality and justice for all people

Be fully engaged in our own growth and with others on their spiritual journey to hope, healing and wholeness

With wisdom, discernment and intentionality, let’s direct our energies toward commitment and community so that we will experience continuity between what has been and what is yet to be. No eye has seen, no mind can conceive what God has in store for us! Amen.

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Confessions of a struggling optimist http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/08/20/confessions-of-a-struggling-optimist/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/08/20/confessions-of-a-struggling-optimist/#respond Thu, 20 Aug 2015 18:00:12 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=63400

Sometimes I still fight having a bad day, despite being an optimist and knowing God’s love for me, and that I’m surrounded by loving people. We need to be honest. Life happens.

I’m so grateful to my colleague, Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins (Senior Pastor of Sunshine Cathedral MCC, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), who wrote this blog with his confessions. He has given me permission to share this with you this week.

As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

Optimism is a choice for me. It isn’t “natural” … that is, I didn’t learn it in my home or school or even in the church of my youth. Because I was already a young adult when I embraced New Thought philosophy (the idea that we can take control of our habitual thinking and thereby improve the conditions of our lives), I had long established/programmed thought habits that fed into anxiety, shame, regret and dread.

As a child and young adult, I worried about almost everything. I saw the world as a challenging place where every good thing and every success could only come by means of struggle. Added to the habitually negative way of viewing the world that I was taught was a family history of depression. I not only “learned” anxiety, in some ways, I biologically inherited it!

Additionally, I was a gay child in a super conservative, fundamentalist Christian region of the country, where fear (fear of God, fear of hell, fear of punishment, fear of not being good enough, fear of gays!) was practically in the water supply … it seemed ubiquitous, natural, normal and inescapable. So feelings of anxiety, loneliness, and low self-esteem all seemed to come naturally to me; those feelings certainly dominated my mind for the first 20 years of life (and have paid unwanted visits from time to time ever since).

But I did discover the idea that there is a universal power that flows through and expresses as all life, that this power is the energy of life, the “stuff” from which we are made, and by changing our thoughts and attitudes and expectations we can tap into that power and direct it more usefully for our benefit (rather than unintentionally using it to reinforce our fears).

So for almost 30 years I have been an avowed optimist. But that doesn’t mean that the first 20 years of programming went away. Some days, I still struggle. My struggles are now aided by the assurance that things will get better, that I deserve for them to get better, and that I have the ability to weather the current storm (real or imagined) and see brighter days again. The struggle doesn’t last as long, or occur as frequently, but it does still happen.

I still have work to do. To this day, when I experience inward turmoil, or outer challenges, a negative voice rises within me accusing me of being a fraud. Those old negative tapes still exist. They are buried, the volume is turned down, but they are still in storage in my subconscious.

Usually, when I feel badly about feeling badly, I am able to remind myself that optimism isn’t a choice I made 30 years ago; it’s a decision that I first made 30 years ago, and it’s a choice I must continue to make daily. When I remind myself of this, I start to forgive myself for being overly critical of myself, and I begin again affirming my value, daring to know that things can, ought to, and must get better, and I start remembering the many things for which I can be grateful. I start to see the good that outweighs the bad, the good that the bad can’t take away, the good that is waiting for me beyond the bad … sometimes, I even notice that the bad isn’t as bad as I first imagined.

I share this because optimism saved my life. It got me through bouts of depression, including the worst bout of my life about five years ago. It also helped me cope with spinal defects, get my weight under control, and even live a healthy life, in spite of a chronic diagnosis, for a couple of decades now. Optimism has helped me survive professional challenges, has made it possible for me to see 22 countries so far, earn multiple degrees, and find and share my life with the true love of my life.

There remains a universal power, we are part of it and it is part of us, and we can use it to improve our lives. We can remind ourselves of this fact as often as we need to, and as we do, things start to get better again. So, I remain an optimist. Some days it takes more effort than others, but I still believe that it’s worth the effort. And so it is.

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We are a rainbow people http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/08/13/we-are-a-rainbow-people/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/08/13/we-are-a-rainbow-people/#respond Thu, 13 Aug 2015 20:41:13 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=63202

As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways.  Take from here what works for you.  Celebrate life with joy and peace!

What an amazing year this has been so far!  Who would have ever thought marriage equality would be the law of the land?  And that the ban on transgender people serving in the military is closer to being completely lifted.

How wonderful to celebrate our wholeness and our authentic selves as an act of worship – our lives are better as a result.  We celebrate equality and pride – and our symbol is the rainbow flag – look around, we are a rainbow people!

The rainbow is a natural occurrence.  Light refracted and dispersed by water droplets in the atmosphere is all that a rainbow is.  And yet, in sacred literature, it symbolizes something pretty amazing.

In Genesis 9, after a great flood, we see the rainbow as a sign of hope and of connection with our Divine Source.

The prophet Ezekiel envisioned the glory of God as a rainbow in the sky.  Many colors, overarching the diversity of creation, an inclusive symbol of light and beauty and hope is how the prophetic imagination of Ezekiel presents the experience of God.

In Revelation, that very imaginative and creative writer saw in his mind the presence of God being surrounded by a rainbow.  And again, that writer imagined an angel of God being wrapped in clouds, with a face like the sun, and the angel was surrounded by a rainbow.

The rainbow image is one we’ve adopted for our community,  and how wonderful that for the first time in San Diego history, it’s now flying in City Hall.  And after June 26, the Day of Decision, the White House and many other national monuments shone brilliantly in rainbow colors (so awesome to see), and how cool that for us as people of faith, the rainbow is also an image we’ve inherited for our God.

The Source and Substance of the universe expresses as light and diversity and hope and beauty and we are made in that image – in God’s image!  We are a rainbow people!

On the night of June 27 and the early morning hours of June 28, 1969 in the West Village of New York City, a rainbow revolution broke out.  It is the Stonewall story.  It was, in this country, the LGBT community’s shot heard around the world!

A bar that was not gay owned but that catered to gay people, and the most marginalized of gay people…homeless youth, drag performers, cross dressers, transgendered people, and blue collar gays and lesbians…and this bar was raided by NYC police.  Such raids were common, but somehow, this group of people at this bar, on this night, refused to take the harassment.  One legend says that because gay icon Judy Garland had died less than a week earlier, and her huge funeral services had just concluded, that her devotees were just extra raw that night.  That can’t be verified, but something happened that night that would forever change history.

On that fateful night, the police attacked and started to round people up for the paddy wagon, but the unheard of then happened…queers fought back!  They chanted, they screamed, they threw rocks and bottles, they lit garbage on fire, and as police would be dealing with one group of rioters, another group would come up behind them.

The Stonewall troops included trans people and drag queens, and while the police swung their night sticks – wigs, false eyelashes, and Lee press-on nails flew through the air.  For our community, it was the rockets’ red glare!

Of course, we do not condone violence, but how amazing that people dared to stand up for themselves and insist that they had self-worth and dignity worth fighting for!

 

At the same time in history, women’s liberation, civil rights, anti-war and many other movements demanding change were happening.  Perhaps the spirit of revolution was just in the air.  In any case, LGBT people were heard and would never again be completely invisible in our society.

Almost a year earlier, another counter-cultural, under the radar, world changing event took place.  In the fall of 1968 a defrocked Pentecostal minister started a church to affirm, celebrate and empower same-gender loving people.  It would, of course, include allies of the gay community and would soon take up feminist causes and in the following decade would take the lead in caring for people with AIDS, but it all began with one country preacher from Northern Florida starting a church with 12 people in his living room with a message that God’s love was all-inclusive and unconditional.

Since that courageous beginning of Metropolitan Community Churches, other denominations have made reconciling gestures toward the LGBT community.  I am forever grateful for the courage and vision of Rev. Troy Perry who stood up when almost no one else would and decades before most did to say that same-gender loving people are valued as much as anyone of the people of God.

Let’s never forget the cutting edge agent of change that MCC has always been and always MUST be.  Before Stonewall, there was MCC, and that’s something that MCC can be very proud of on this Pride Sunday.

MCC began in 1968

The Stonewall Riots occurred in 1969

The first Gay Pride Parades were held in 1970 to commemorate Stonewall

In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association took homosexuality off its list of psychiatric disorders.

And yet, all these decades later, there are still large groups of people who hide behind religion to say their fear or hatred or ignorance of same-gender loving people is mandated by scripture.  IT IS NOT!

That same argument has been used to justify the suppression of women, child abuse, slavery and any number of atrocities.  Eventually, the leaders of religion are always embarrassed that religion was allowed to be misused so abusively, and religion must repent.

I like how fellow MCC minister in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Rev. Durrell Watkins said, “As followers of Jesus, we have a right and an obligation to re-think the oppressive ways that scripture has been interpreted.  Jesus valued the human being more than the tradition, the text, or the institution.  And so like Jesus, we value people in the name of God rather than give lip service to God at the expense of human dignity.”

In our scripture reading today we hear Jesus tell his disciples to show kindness to these little ones.  Little ones meant those without status, the so-called “little people” – those who didn’t have the protections of wealth or power or privilege or even citizenship sometimes.  The little ones were children, and women, and slaves, and the chronically ill, the eunuchs, and the poor…anyone on the margins of society, anyone not part of the dominant, privileged class.

Rather than using religion to marginalize people, Jesus wanted spirituality to be used to liberate and empower the marginalized, because in the kingdom of God, all people have sacred value and dignity.  ALL people!

Friends, I leave you with three points:

First, we are more powerful than we realize … together we can do amazing things … together we can grow the most dynamic and life-changing ministry right here at The Met.  We have a mission of bringing people closer to God and one another and a vision to be a vibrant, inclusive and progressive community of faith that transforms lives and transforms the world.   We can confront injustice and we can heal from the wounds of the past and create something new and miraculous.  We are a rainbow people – made in the image of God – a beautiful part of God’s creation!

Second, let’s always be grateful and never forget those who have gone before us and whose shoulders we now stand on.  And let’s be grateful for those who bravely stand with us.  Praise God for our allies, and may we be as present to others who also struggle for equality.  We are all a rainbow people!

Third, justice is never for just us. Marriage equality, taking down the Confederate flag, transgender equality are all important to celebrate.  However, cures for AIDS, for Alzheimer’s, for cancer, for MS, for all that causes suffering and hardship also must be found.  Correcting the damage of institutionalized racism, challenging sexism, protecting the environment, standing up for peace, caring for victims of abuse, caring for our planet … friends, there is a lot to do!

As Abraham Lincoln said, “Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves.”  We deserve justice, and we must also remember that justice is never for JUST US.

We are all children of God, made in God’s image, filled with God’s spirit, and we are all part of the creation that God calls “very good!”

We are a rainbow people. All of us children of a rainbow God!

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Dignity restored and affirmed http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/08/06/dignity-restored-and-affirmed/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/08/06/dignity-restored-and-affirmed/#respond Thu, 06 Aug 2015 19:20:59 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=62943

istock

As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

I’m so happy that our refusal to compromise on the affirmation of the dignity and sacred value of all people has helped contribute to a new generation of families where children are loved and supported unconditionally.

When the Supremes sang our song on marriage equality and the thunderbolt of justice was heard throughout our country and the world – of course, I was thrilled and celebrating like you. My Facebook lit up! Now, I have probably close to 100 conservative relatives and friends as Facebook friends, aunts and uncles, brothers, cousins, nieces and nephews, and how many of them made any comments of congratulations or “I’m happy for you?” None!

As I went to The Center with the 1,000 other people rejoicing at this wonderful step toward equality and dignity, this was in the back of my mind. And as I looked out over that diverse crowd, I thought to myself – this is my family. This is my tribe! And I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in that room with that experience.

Jesus affirms life. Jesus affirms that life is meant to be a blessing, and we each are meant to experience life abundantly. Today, in our scripture reading, we see Jesus affirming the dignity of one whose dignity had not been recognized by the larger society.

The Pharisee calls the unnamed woman a sinner. We don’t know why the legalistic Pharisee has labeled this woman a sinner other than he feels qualified to judge her and dismiss her as less than he is. Jesus, by contrast, doesn’t seem to notice anything wicked about her. Rather, he is impressed with her expression of gratitude and generosity. He sees and affirms the good in her.

The power and privilege seeking Pharisee wants to shame Jesus while assuming superiority over the so-called sinner. And yet, in Luke’s telling, it isn’t the self-important Pharisee, but the so-called sinner who demonstrates that in God’s kingdom, all people have sacred value. The one the Pharisee has tried to humiliate is the heroine of this story.

The woman in the story must have saved up a lot of money to buy this really expensive ointment, and then she shared her valuable resource with Jesus.

The Pharisee hosting a dinner for Jesus is a protector of the status quo, but that doesn’t impress Jesus. This woman’s generosity and commitment to service is what Jesus calls good.

In the kingdom of God that Jesus preached, the first and the last are on equal footing, the new person is valuable just like the person who’s been around forever, the person who works for an hourly wage is valuable just like someone who has inherited a fortune, a person studying to earn a GED is valuable just like someone with a PhD.

Following Jesus isn’t about achieving privilege or protecting the status quo … following Jesus is about building a different kind of community where the outsider, the newcomer, the different, the other, the queer, the person with no family support, the person in recovery, the disadvantaged, the person struggling to regain health, the interreligious couple, the spiritual but not religious, the agnostic, the person who doesn’t yet believe that they are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake, can be the hero of a sacred story; where you and I can learn to believe in ourselves, where every person can hear that they are a child of God, where dignity is restored and dignity is affirmed.

May God give us the will, the strength and the tenacity to build this kind of community.

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This is REAL Christian persecution: Augusta church hit with anti-LGBT hate http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/07/30/this-is-real-christian-persecution-augusta-church-hit-with-anti-lgbt-hate/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/07/30/this-is-real-christian-persecution-augusta-church-hit-with-anti-lgbt-hate/#respond Thu, 30 Jul 2015 16:00:20 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=62741

The Augusta church hit with anti-LGBT hate crime

This week I want to devote my column to an article written by David R. Henson about the MCC church in Augusta, Ga. that was hit by a hate crime following the SCOTUS ruling showing how there is so much work yet to be done.

The article first appeared at patheos.com and is reproduced with permission of the author.

Pastor Dan


Christian persecution in the United States is real.

It’s just not what you think.

Christian persecution isn’t about having to offer birth control to women.

It’s not about having to serve wedding cakes to gay and lesbian couples.

Christian persecution isn’t even having people call you out when you spout homophobic, sexist, or racist opinions, veiled blasphemously as biblical.

Real Christian persecution is having your church burned to the ground because black people worship there.

Real Christian persecution is having your church graffitied hatefully because gay and lesbian people can worship there.

Real Christian persecution in the United States terrorizes people — often Christians themselves. It calls to mind violence, done in the name of God, continuing in the name of God. And Christianity — particularly as it has been historically practiced by white, heterosexual people in the United States — has a very deep, very long history of perpetrating this kind of violence.

The latest victim of such persecution is the Church of Our Redeemer, a Metropolitan Community Church in Augusta, Georgia (MCCOR). It’s an open and affirming church in the midst of a deeply homophobic culture that birthed the Southern Baptist Convention. The church is a beacon for LGBTQ equality, a home and safe haven for many in the town.

But a neighbor Tuesday morning called the church’s senior pastor, the Rev. Rick Sosbe, after noticing a vandal had sought to extinguish the church’s light for equality. Someone had spray-painted “Leviticus 18:22″ on doors of the church along with the words “burn” and “lie.”

As someone who until recently ministered in the Augusta area, who has walked its downtown streets in solidarity during Pride, and who has known some of this church’s ministers and members, I was both shocked and angry when news of a hate crime hit so close to home.

And just an hour away, the KKK, a self-professed Christian organization, is protesting the Confederate battle flag being removed from the South Carolina capitol in the most vile and hateful of ways.

Certainly, these two shouldn’t be simply equated with each other, but at their core, both are motivated by hate and by violence toward difference. Hate, it seems, has become a “Christian” value for some.

How in God’s name has Jesus been fashioned into an idol for bigots?

Need we be reminded that almost half of the gay, lesbian, and bisexual community are professing Christians? Need we be reminded that the vast majority of Black Americans are Christians?

Need we be reminded – yet again – that in the United States, it has almost always been Christians terrorizing Christians?

White Christians terrorizing Black Christians for 400 years.

Heterosexual Christians terrorizing gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Christians for decades and longer.

And those categories aren’t mutually exclusive mind you. But I put these examples together because it bears remembering that hate crimes in this country have tended to be committed overwhelmingly by Christians, frequently against Christians.

It’s terribly ironic. Christians like Franklin Graham fret and worry about attacks on the Christian faith from Muslims or other vague bogeymen who aren’t white, who aren’t Christians, or who aren’t heterosexual. But the real attack on Christianity is coming from Christians.

But as tempting as it is to focus just on this evil and hateful crime in Augusta, at the unknown criminals who attempted to darken the light of love and equality that MCCOR represents, that’s not the whole story. The MCCOR community is continuing to shine its light in Augusta. Church and community members — even a few passersby — have rallied together to repair the damage, to clean and re-paint. There has been shared joy in the joining together to literally erase the hate, according to folks there.

As always, the whole story can be so much bigger and more generous than an act of hate. And we can be a small part of that. In many ways, MCCOR is a beacon — and a fairly isolated one at that — in Augusta for ministry to and among LGBTQ people. And you can let them know they are not alone. Send their church a message or prayer of encouragement, a message of God’s love. Pour out on them the gift they have poured out in Augusta, the gift of welcome, of acceptance, and of unconditional love.

Make a donation to MCCOR here at their Go Fund Me site: http://www.mccoor.com/giving/donate-online/ or send checks and loving messages directly to 557 Greene Street Augusta, Georgia 30901-1459.

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Keeping faith and works alive http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/07/23/keeping-faith-and-works-alive/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/07/23/keeping-faith-and-works-alive/#respond Thu, 23 Jul 2015 17:52:05 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=62507

istock

As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

Happy 45th anniversary MCC San Diego!

Anytime people come together to be encouraged, to share their best, to embrace a vision for the future; anytime people come together to speak a word of healing to the hurting, to love and be loved, to affirm the sacred value of all people then the power of love is made manifest, the wind of the spirit blows, the Christ Light shines and those dead in despair are raised to new lives of peace and purpose.

We at The Met are committed to sharing the Good News of God’s inclusive love to all people in every way we can. Our anniversary isn’t just a glorification of what has been, a walk down memory lane, but it’s an affirmation of who we are and of what still can be!

Metropolitan Community Churches may have started 47 years ago to create a safe spiritual home for gay men and lesbians and their allies, but the mission continued to expand and grow from there, and transgender and intersex and gender non-conforming people were brought into the fold, and feminist theology and the recognition of the sacredness of the feminine was brought into the collective consciousness; when the AIDS crisis hit, MCC was a leader in showing compassion to those who needed it most, and when human rights violations would take place anywhere in the world MCC raised a voice calling for healing and justice.

I like how one person put it: MCC was started to include some on the margins, but has grown to include and bless and uplift many, and as everyone at some point has probably needed to hear of their sacred value and worthiness, (no matter their social status or personal circumstances), the message of MCC is still needed today!

An anniversary isn’t only a glorification of what has been, but a call to action for what still needs to be done.

We are a people of faith! Our faith helps us hope even when hope seems ridiculous. Hold on! Hold on when life seems crazy and out of control! We long for better days, and sometimes those days come quickly, and sometimes they seem a long way off; either way, it is our faith and hope that sustains us and keeps us knowing there is still joy to be had and joy to share.

There are choices we can make, attitudes we can cultivate, thoughts we can think on that will reduce our suffering and help lift us above the disappointments in life.

The good we seek already exists in the realm of possibilities, and we can learn to more fully see it and then seize it. “What we focus on we tend to attract.” Right?

The writer of Timothy 2 tells us that God has already given us great resilience, the power to call on hope, the ability to love ourselves and to choose our thoughts, attitudes and focus.

“God has not given us a spirit of fear, but rather of empowerment, love and self-discipline.”

Luke 17 shows the disciples asking for more faith. But more isn’t always what’s necessarily needed. Jesus responds by telling them to use the faith they have, the ability to trust the Divine goodness that is already within them.

Let’s look at it another way. You already trust life to some degree. Even if you trust it to be lousy, that’s still trust, or faith; now, learn to use it more positively and you can turn some things around, or at the very least, change how you understand or experience what happens in life.

But what God does for us, God does through us.

Someone once complained to Rev. Dr. Brent Hawkes of MCC Toronto, Canada saying that they weren’t getting fed in church anymore. And Rev. Hawkes said, “Maybe it’s time to take off the bib and put on an apron … maybe you aren’t being fed because you aren’t doing any serving.”

And it’s true, isn’t it? Babies and invalids, plants and pets need to be fed; the rest of us need to help with the cooking and serving. And, as we do, there are lots of tasty bites for us along the way, and the joy of doing something that matters. What God does for us, God does through us. Our hands are God’s hands. Maybe that’s why Jesus’ brother James told his community, “Faith without words is dead.”

Remember in Genesis 2, God created a garden, but needed a gardener. That’s us. God needs partners. That’s us. Instead of begging God to do more, maybe we can do more with what God has already given us; maybe then we’ll see the miracles that God wished us to have all along!

Thank God, for Troy Perry, who didn’t wait for God to force justice and inclusion and radical change on the world of religion; Troy rolled up his sleeves and went to work, and then God through him could do more.

Thank God for giving us all a spirit of hope and peace and inner strength to live out our mission of bringing people closer to God and one another.

Thank God for giving us a universe filled with unlimited blessings, and the ability to choose to see and seize and share them.

We don’t need more miracles working faith; we need to recognize, accept, and put to use what we’ve been given; and then, the miracles will flow as never before.

Let the miracles begin! Amen.

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Hot buttons! http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/07/09/hot-buttons/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/07/09/hot-buttons/#respond Thu, 09 Jul 2015 16:31:41 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=62070

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As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

In Mark 6:3 we read, “And they took offense at him.”

Somebody’s hot buttons were being pushed! We all have hot buttons. What are your hot buttons? You know the feeling of intense emotion that explodes within us when one of our hot buttons is triggered.

It seems like we live in hypersensitive times where it doesn’t take much to light someone’s fuse. Many books have been written to help people take responsibility for managing their hot buttons and to learn how not to hit the hot buttons of others.

Hot buttons are part of the human experience and they take place in the workplace, within peer groups, on the playground, with family and in communities of faith.

My brother David and I used to be master button pushers with each other. We are 16 months apart and all I can say is, “My poor mom!” I’ll never forget saying something to get him going, and he grabbed a shoe to throw at me, I ducked, and it went through the living room window!

I also have my personal set of hot buttons – when I see people littering – it drives me crazy!

I think one characteristic of Jesus’ life and ministry is that he pushed a lot of hot buttons, especially the hot buttons of the religious and political elite. In fact, Mark records a story of Jesus going to the synagogue on the Sabbath and there was a man with a withered hand there. Like vultures, the religious leadership was poised to pounce if Jesus departed from the strict Sabbath laws.

Well, he did and in a dramatic way too! He called the man front and center, and he restored his hand. Mark tells us the religious leadership responded by initiating a conspiracy to destroy him. I think Jesus pushed a very volatile hot button!

Mark also says that Jesus was angered and grieved by their hardness of heart. In other words, it looks as if they pushed Jesus’ hot button as well.

Jesus also triggered the hot buttons of those closest to him; his hometown neighbors and even his immediate family. In Luke 4 when Jesus was visiting his hometown, people became so infuriated with him that they drove him out of town and even attempted to throw him off a cliff! Some people get irrational and dangerous when their hot buttons are pushed.

The last TV I bought I got an upgrade: HD – high definition! Today, the word, “definition” has come to be associated with optics and video, and it means “sharpness of image.” The higher the definition or resolution, the sharper, clearer, more precise is the image. The higher the resolution the better and more expensive!

Using that analogy, the religion of Jesus’ time also had its version of HD (high definition), and it had nothing to do with computers, TV’s and smart phones. Theologian J. Holub says that it had to do with things they considered sacred. The religion of Jesus’ day had very clear, sharp, precise definitions of what was sacred and holy and so do we!

When Jesus came along and pushed their holy hot buttons, he provided new definitions that changed the resolution of their sacred things and they took offense at him!

And what’s really interesting is Jesus often changed it to a lower resolution. Rather than creating an even sharper, more precisely defined image at a higher resolution, he often blurred the picture; softened the rigid edges of their high definition sacred things.

By healing the man’s withered hand on the Sabbath, in the synagogue, strictly prohibited by the clearly defined, high resolution, high definition Sabbath laws, Jesus blurred the image.

Jesus wanted to show them that worship without compassion was hollow and empty; worship that cultivates hard hearts and unbending, dehumanizing and exclusive attitudes is a sham! It drove them crazy and pushed their holy hot buttons to the point that they conspired to destroy him.

Jesus changed the resolution of another sacred thing by redefining close relationships from being based on blood connections to grace connections. His new definition was based on grace, the infinite height, length, breadth and depth of God’s grace that left no one out and connected everybody. This is the Good News of God’s inclusive love that we proclaim loudly and unashamedly at MCC San Diego!

As we look at the ministry of Jesus, we see that he often redefined, or changed the definition of those things that people considered to be sacred and, in the process, pushed a lot of hot buttons.

Jesus challenged his followers and challenges us to decrease our legalistic, exclusive HD resolution and, rather, to grow in love, grow in grace, grow in compassion, grow in inclusion, and grow in the pursuit of social justice which changes the resolution and blurs the picture and makes the lines fuzzy.

In some ways, this makes life more complicated and less defined, but in the end we are set free from being unbending and exclusive and open to more grace, more inclusion, more compassion and more love.

God, thanks for pushing our holy hot buttons! Amen.

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‘No one is free, until we all are free.’ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/07/02/no-one-is-free-until-we-all-are-free/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/07/02/no-one-is-free-until-we-all-are-free/#respond Thu, 02 Jul 2015 16:59:45 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=61876

As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

There are many strong emotions surrounding the killing of nine black people by a white man while in a Bible study in their home church. The following article from The Huffington Post, written by the moderator of the MCC Denomination, Rev. Dr. Nancy Wilson, reflects the feelings of so many who are outraged and grieving over the gaping wound of racism that still exists in our country.

As a church that values diversity and inclusivity, we stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers around this country who are victims of racist systems. God, help us to not fear the other. Helps us to love and forgive the other. Help us to support one another as we move towards healing and understanding – and let it begin with me. Amen.

“We are enraged at the execution of Black people in the streets, in the prisons, and now in a church! The killing of Black people in the Mother Emanuel AME Church is an act of terrorism, and will go down in infamy as the Charleston Massacre. This heinous crime of shooting Black people in the midst of a Bible study in church is just one more dramatic example of how racism is deeply infused in the United States.

“As the global moderator for Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC), founded to welcome LGBTQ people, we know what it is to have our people murdered and our churches burned. We know that these acts are acts of terrorism are based on hate and intended to dominate whole swaths of people.

“We grieve for the families who lost loved ones in this massacre. We grieve for all those who are victims of racist systems. We grieve for our country built on racism.

“Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Charleston, South Carolina, was the site of the shooting. It is one of the oldest Black churches in the South and is no stranger to hate. White slave owners burned Emanuel AME in 1822 when founding church member, Denmark Vesey, attempted to organize a slave rebellion. Now, once again, this historically Black church must endure racist violence.

“We stand to say all racial terrorism must stop. If white people admit that our privileges are grounded in endemic racism, there might be a chance to turn things around.

“I do not speak alone. I speak as part of a diverse community with members in dozens of countries and from many races. My colleague Rev. Darlene Garner, head of emerging ministries with responsibility for diversity in MCC, is a woman of African descent and says:

‘As an African American woman, I know we have not come very far when a 21-year old man can sit in a Bible study for an hour and then announce that he was there to “kill black people.” He spewed racial hate and executed African Americans in their own church – starting with an 87-year-old woman.

‘In the United States we say ‘Remember 911,’ ‘Remember Normandy,’ ‘Remember the Holocaust,’ but when we remember our history of slavery and racism, too many people say, ‘Get over it!’

‘We will never forget the Charleston Massacre.

‘As a Black child, I learned about Juneteenth, a Black celebration that few in the dominant culture know about. This year is the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth , when the news that slavery was over reached African Americans in Galveston, Texas – two and a half years after the Emancipation Declaration was signed.

‘The Charleston Massacre taking place during the season of Juneteenth is a clear and undeniable reminder that not everyone knows that slavery and racial tyranny are over. African Americans have now been legally free for more than 150 years, but racist systems of lynching, redlining, voter suppression, poverty, imprisonment, and massacres have continued to enforce racism from then until today.

‘The Charleston Massacre is not an incidental act of senseless violence by a disturbed young man. It is an example of the racism taught to generation after generation and reinforced by seemingly color-blind policies that systematically deny the humanity of people of color.

‘Institutionalized racism raised another one of its ugly hydra heads in 2013. At the same moment SCOTUS made history by ruling to allow same-sex couples in California to marry, they gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This month, the Supreme Court may make marriage equality the law of the land, but this country’s pact with racism overshadows everything. Any celebration will be dulled by the ongoing grief we feel for the human family.

‘People in the United States who wield power have a choice. Will we evolve into massive change for a more just society with checks and monitoring of historically racist practices, or will we devolve into ever expanding violent terrorism against people of color? It is up to us.

‘If we as a country would fall to our knees in repentance, and then rise to challenge the underlying racism that pervades this country, change would be possible. The Charleston Massacre could become a historic turning point.

‘For Metropolitan Community Churches, founded almost 50 years ago as a haven from homophobia, this most recent act of racial terrorism reminds us that people of all colors, classes, and creeds must remain vigilant, because, as Dr. King said, ‘No one is free, until we all are free.’”

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Raising a consciousness of Christ connections http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/06/25/raising-a-consciousness-of-christ-connections/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/06/25/raising-a-consciousness-of-christ-connections/#respond Thu, 25 Jun 2015 22:13:56 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=61673

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As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

The scriptures in the Bible are sometimes referred to as the “canon.” The word canon comes from a Greek word that means “reed or cane.” This refers to a standard of measure. It came to be applied to the scriptures to denote their authoritative aspect.

Most of us have our personal canon within the canon, that is, our core collection of scripture within the larger body of scripture. And entire denominations have been organized around differing core collections of scripture.

Even the person sitting in the end zone of the football game with their placard displaying a scriptural reference is revealing their canon within the canon, not to mention their personal agenda.

It’s important to remain aware of the temptation and danger of proof-texting or cherry-picking scripture as it is sometimes called, that is, taking a passage out of context to reinforce a personal agenda, like a fear based prejudice. Throughout history, people have misused scripture to justify wars and slavery and all sorts of inequality. Martin Luther even warned his students against this approach when it is reported that he said, “Using scripture I can prove that bad beer is better than good wine.”

Over the years my canon within the canon has changed and evolved and expanded as my knowledge and understanding of scripture has grown. How has your understanding of scripture and your interpretation of it expanded as you’re on your spiritual journey?

I love discovering new scriptures and new understandings. In 2 Corinthians 8, we read where the apostle Paul spent nearly 10 years soliciting funds for what was commonly known as the “Jerusalem Fund.” This was a collection he took up among Gentile congregations in Macedonia and Achaia (modern day Greece) to help Jerusalem congregations who were facing very difficult times as a result of drought, heavy taxes and a sluggish economy. This passage is part of Paul’s final appeal to the mainly Gentile congregation in Corinth to help out their sisters and brothers in Jerusalem, who were mainly Jewish followers of Jesus.

A part of what happened was that Paul’s initial appeal to the Corinth congregation had hit some resistance after they had initially promised to respond. They had not followed through on a previous pledge, so Paul made a second appeal.

Paul wrote these rather direct words, “… it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something, but even desired to do something – to now finish doing it.”

Paul appealed to the church in Greece because they were in a relatively prosperous time and living comfortably. In his first letter to the Corinthian congregation Paul had encouraged them to exercise self-discipline and regularly “set aside” something for the Jerusalem congregation on a “weekly basis.” What is so remarkable about this and even beyond that, what is captivating and challenging is that in Paul’s time, the rift between Gentile and Jew was one of the deepest and most profound of all human divides.

What Paul asked the congregation in Corinth to do was so counter-cultural. It went against common sense and cultural and social norms. But could the life-changing point be this: for Paul, even in the face of great cultural resistance, the “Jerusalem Collection” was a tangible expression of what he perceived to be the very heart (core) of the Christ experience?

Could it be for Paul, that his experience of Jesus was a challenge to the mindset of mutual exclusivity? Because of Christ, Paul saw things differently; he saw a sense of connection, not just with his immediate circles of family and friends, but between the needs of others and the abundance of others. For Paul, Jesus revealed lines of connection that the Corinth congregation did not see or recognize. Jesus made visible links of interrelatedness that perhaps they were hesitant to acknowledge or accept.

Paul experienced the living Jesus as one who challenged him to live with these lines of connection to be visibly seen, out in the open.

We might call this living with a consciousness of Christ connections; seeing these Christ connections as a calling rather than living with a sense of mutual exclusivity. In other words, we need each other and we are all connected.

It’s amazing what a natural disaster or a horrific traffic accident or a senseless shooting will do to bring total strangers together in support of one another. There is power when we all combine our resources, like the outpouring of humanitarian aid to Nepal, like so many people going out to support AIDS services and education through The Center’s Dining Out for Life. And how we are constantly bringing in clothing and food items to support Uptown Faith Community Service Center and our Feed My Sheep food pantry… all of this is living with a consciousness of Christ connections.

As Jesus people, and that is who we are as followers of Christ, we are called to affirm, recognize and live with a consciousness of Christ connections; connections that link the needs of some with the abundance of others; connections that are healing, empowering and freeing!

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Following Jesus to the other side http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/06/17/following-jesus-to-the-other-side/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/06/17/following-jesus-to-the-other-side/#respond Wed, 17 Jun 2015 20:49:54 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=61406

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As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

In the Gospel of Mark 4, Jesus calls us to follow him to the other side. The other side of what? The other side of where? Jesus said to them, “Let us go across to the other side. And leaving the crowd behind … they went across.”

Jesus lived dangerously and placed himself at great risk for the sake of inclusive love; and Jesus challenged the boundaries and then issued challenges to his followers.

In Mark there are two traumatic boat experiences on the Sea of Galilee. Both stories have common themes. In both stories the disciples were crossing to the other side. And in both stories there is “fear” that overwhelmed them and then Jesus addressed that fear.

Now, there are a couple ways to see and understand these gospel stories. One way is to take them literally, as historical narratives that we could have taken a video on our smart phones if we had been there. If we take the literal approach, we can easily get hung up on whether or not it really happened the way Mark describes it, and debate about it endlessly, and never really get to the core meaning of the story.

Another way is to see and understand these stories as not merely literal historical narratives, but as what many Biblical scholars call metaphorical narratives. Metaphorical narrative recognizes that truth can be delivered through metaphor, and that these early faith communities understood the metaphorical nature of the stories they received and passed on about Jesus.

The metaphorical approach takes seriously the depth of what Jesus meant for those early faith communities; communities that shaped their lives around his teaching, communities that named Jesus Lord. Theologian, J. Holub wrote, “This approach says that the deepest meanings of the stories are found in their metaphorical nature rather than in a strictly literal sense.”

How wonderful that when we take this approach, it can open up great vistas of understanding and wonderful new dimensions of meaning about Jesus and the impact he had on those early communities of faith that followed him, and also how he shaped their community and their individual lives long after he was gone. It also speaks of how Jesus can continue to shape and impact our lives today.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go across to the other side.” The “other side” of the Sea of Galilee was not just different in its geographic features a few miles away, but it was different culturally, socially, ethnically, politically and religiously; it was so different it could have been 10,000 miles away or even on another planet!

The Sea of Galilee separated two major regions: a Jewish region and a Gentile region. When Jesus said, “Let us go to the other side,” he was transporting his disciples across a significant boundary. The other side was a center of Greek and Roman culture; an alien culture; a Gentile world. One of the most pronounced lines of demarcation of the ancient world was that between Jew and Gentile. Do we still have pronounced lines of demarcation in 2015?

What this story is about is crossing these boundaries. As we read the gospels, Jesus passed back and forth across these boundaries often, as if they didn’t even exist.

So, Jesus took the initiative with his disciples, climbed into their little boat and crossed a boundary. As they were crossing they encountered a great resistance, and then they were engulfed and almost capsized in fury of fear.

Again, if we read this story strictly literally, it is only about a wind-storm, the disciples’ fearful response, and then Jesus miraculously calming the winds and waves. But as we look at this metaphorically, it opens up whole new dimensions of meaning.

We all know about the power of fear. Fear is a powerful force that can distort our thinking, our attitudes and our perceptions. The first and most powerful boundary the disciples had to cross was that of their fear!

One of the hardest things in life to do is to cross strong boundaries we have drawn in our minds. Many of our boundaries are rooted in a narrow mentality that invokes fear of anything outside of that boundary. And when we are challenged to cross a boundary, we are met with head-on gale force winds of our own fear. The disciples encountered the mighty resistance of their own fear in crossing a boundary they would have never crossed had it not been for Jesus. Are we much different than the disciples?

As we’re reading this story, you can’t miss the ironic humor of Jesus peacefully and calmly asleep in the boat; all around is chaos, panic and fear and Jesus is snoring. You can almost hear the agitated frustration of the disciples when they say, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?”

Here they are, in a great storm, waves were beating against the boat so much so that it was being swamped; and where’s Jesus? Asleep on a cushion! Jesus’ life was not defined by fear.

And this is a journey that Jesus leads us on also; to cross boundaries of overt or subtle prejudice; to cross boundaries of bias; to cross boundaries of narrow-mindedness; to cross boundaries of elitism and arrogance; to cross boundaries that prevent the nurturing of community and greater unity; to cross boundaries that exclude, minimize, dehumanize and categorize people.

Jesus says, “Come on. Let’s go across to the other side.” “Don’t worry, I’ll be with you.” “I’ll calm the storms of fear.” Could that be what the stilling of the wind and the waves is all about? The absence of fear?

When fear no longer controls us love can flow; compassion can flow; justice is possible. Fear is paralyzing and it can also blind us to seeing who and what is on the other side. Fear doesn’t let us listen to “their” story, to feel their pain, to hear their voice, and in this vacuum we come up with all sorts of distorted conclusions about “the other side” that we can mistake for the truth.

Theologian Sallie McFague writes, “People all look alike when you cannot be bothered to look at them closely.”

Mark says, “And leaving the crowd behind …”

If you choose to follow Jesus across one of your fear-based boundaries you will leave a significant crowd behind, and they might give you grief for it. But fear not, the world needs courageous and bold people who are willing to not let narrow attitudes and fear define and rule them.

Let’s be bridge builders of understanding and cooperation with people on the other side. It’s what we are called to do. It’s a bold invitation; Jesus says, “Come on with me. Let’s go across to the other side.” Amen.

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Awaken to the Christ within http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/06/11/awaken-to-the-christ-within/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/06/11/awaken-to-the-christ-within/#respond Thu, 11 Jun 2015 16:52:22 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=61186

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As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

Author Ann Lamott, gave a commencement address at Goucher College in Baltimore. She said, “Your (biggest) problem is how you are going to spend this one odd and precious life you have been issued; whether you are going to spend it trying to look good and creating the illusion that you have power over people and circumstances, or whether you are (going) to find out the truth about who you really are.”

She goes on to say, “So from the wise old pinnacle of my 49 years, I want to tell you that what you are looking for is already inside you. You have heard this before, but the holy thing inside you really is that which causes you to seek it. You cannot buy it, lease it, rent it, date it or apply for it. The best job in the world cannot give it to you; neither can success, or fame, or financial security; besides which, there ain’t no such thing. J.D. Rockefeller was once asked, ‘How much money is enough?’ and he answered, ‘Just a little bit more.’

“What you are looking for is already inside of you,” she said.

Do we really believe that? Do we really trust that? If we do, many times our lives do not often show it. Many people have lived much of their life believing that what they think they need to make them happy is outside of them, external from them, separate from them; that they must go “out there somewhere” to get it. So, off they go on this endless external quest in their pursuit.

“How much money is enough?” he was asked. “Just a little bit more!” he responded.

How much power and control is enough? Just a little bit more?

How many possessions are enough? Just a few more?

How big a thrill is enough? Just a little bigger one more time?

How much security is enough? Just a tad more?

How many toys are enough? Not too many more?

This journey is a journey of futility, because there is no such thing as “just a little bit more.” It’s an illusion.

In the light of this, Jesus tells a parable. Now, a parable is a metaphor of the Kingdom of God (Realm of God) that is based on something ordinary and every day.

Jesus said, “The Kingdom (Realm) of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself… but when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

It’s as if the farmer scattered the seed, went about her business, and then one day just woke up and was awakened, much to her surprise, to all of this grain growing right outside her door, and, voila, it was ready to be harvested! So, she harvested it! There was little or no effort on her part that caused it to grow to fruition. “The earth produces of itself,” said Jesus. It was much more like it was a gift that just happened, and she awakened to it!

In Luke’s gospel some Pharisees (religious leaders of the day) came to Jesus and asked him when the Realm of God was coming and what to look for. Listen to how Jesus answered them, “The Kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the Kingdom of God is within you.”

“Within you” – the realm of God is within you; not outside of you; not separate from you, but within you. The Greek word for “within” means “within the boundaries of what is already yours.”

Our spiritual life is not just a matter of going out somewhere and getting anything, but a matter of awakening to that which is already within us. That is what Jesus did. When he challenged people with crazy things like “Pray for your enemies” or “Forgive 70X7” or “Do not judge” or “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” he was not proclaiming a new set of laws, but was awakening them to the realm of God, the Divine grace, that was already within them – and when we awaken to this, we will experience great joy and fulfillment and deep purpose.

When we awaken to the Christ within, it is breathtaking, captivating and transforming. The realm of God is within you. Therefore, you are love; you are compassion; you are forgiveness; you are grace. Your purpose is to share love, and to be loved; to help the poor, to feed the hungry, to include the excluded, to empower the vulnerable; to build bridges of peace; to bring comfort; to work for justice; to build community.

Look again into your life and awaken to the Christ within you. And may your light of love and peace brighten the world around you more and more. Amen.

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What happens when the wine runs out? http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/05/28/what-happens-when-the-wine-runs-out/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/05/28/what-happens-when-the-wine-runs-out/#respond Thu, 28 May 2015 16:06:25 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=60479

Marriage at Cana, c. 1500, Gerard David, Musée du Louvre, Paris

As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

I love love! I love to celebrate love! And one of the best places for that is a wedding! I’m so lucky; I get the best seat in the house! There are times when I’ve had to fight back the tears as the love being expressed was so profound and palpable. And there are other times when funny things can happen, that maybe aren’t so funny at the moment, but later, looking back, get a good laugh!

In the Gospel of John, Jesus attended a wedding at Cana in Galilee and at that wedding there was a crisis, and it was not so funny – they ran out of wine! Now, in that culture, a wedding feast was the biggest event in village life, with the newlyweds treated like royalty for several days of ritual and festivities. It was the host’s responsibility to provide everything for the festivities and to ever run out of anything would be an insult to your neighbors and a big embarrassment for yourself.

John’s gospel is called the “metaphorical gospel” by Biblical Scholars meaning that John wrote in such a way that intentionally invited the reader to look deeper than the literal story and to interpret the stories metaphorically. So, the stories in John’s Gospel, and many other places in the Bible, have multiple layers of meaning into which we can go deeper and deeper. For John’s community of faith, the meaning of Jesus is revealed by unpacking the metaphors and exploring the deeper layers of meaning.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus is presented as what some call the creative energy of God taking expression in a human life. John begins his gospel by speaking of the Divine Word or “Logos” in Greek. Many of you will recognize this passage: “In the beginning was the Word. (The Word) was in the beginning with God … All things came into being through (the Word) … What has come into being was life, and the life was the light of all people … and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us …”

The “Logos” or the Word, was understood as God’s living creative energy through which authentic life came into being; not just biological life, but fullness of life, richness of life, quality of life. John’s Gospel affirms that this Divine creative energy was present in the person of Jesus.

John begins this story with the words, “the third day.” So, already in the first three words we get a glimpse at how John uses layers of meaning and metaphor. “The third day” on the one hand, could be a literal reference to the story that precedes it, like three days later. But on the other hand, if we go deeper, we see it also as a reference meant to remind us of the resurrection – “the third day.” This could be John’s way of telling his readers that the creative life-giving energy of God that the disciples personally experienced in the life of Jesus is also present in the risen Christ! The ongoing presence of Jesus that they continued to experience in their community of faith some six decades later when this gospel was written.

And Jesus, filled with this creative life-giving energy, changed the water into wine – and a lot of it! Let’s do the arithmetic: Six stone jars at about 30 gallons each comes to 180 gallons! That’s a lot of wine! That’s an abundance of wine!

And here at this point, we are again invited to explore the layers of metaphorical meaning. We can get all hung up on the literalness of the story. We can argue if this really happened or not, or if the wine was actually fermented, or, we can go deeper.

The six stone water jars were for the purpose of the rites and rituals of purification. Their function was ceremonial not hygienic. Let’s go deeper. In other words, the jars could metaphorically represent a religion that had, for some, become hardened by legalisms and rituals; a religion that God mired in its own dogma, a religion that was more concerned about correctness than compassion; exclusion than inclusion; self-satisfaction than social justice.

Jesus had them first fill the jars with water, which was their natural state and function for ceremonial ritual. And then the waters were transformed into wine; something radically new, unconventional and some would say wild and crazy!

In verse three, John says, “the wine ran out” which started the panic and crisis. Sometimes in life the wine just runs out. Somehow, somewhere, someplace, sometime and in some circumstance, the wine in your life and my life is going to run out. The wine runs out!

How do you know when your wine has run out? You know the wine has run out when your religion does more to separate you from others than to connect you with others.

You know your wine has run out when you face a crisis like sickness, great loss, failure, betrayal, divorce, estrangement, your own mortality and you are only filled with fear, regret, guilt, anger, depression or despair.

You know your wine has run out when you become aware, in a moment of honest clarity, that all of your hectic running around, all of your consuming, all of your busyness, all of your thrill-seeking is only a mechanism to cover up the muffled voice of anxiety whispering in the depths of your soul that you are feeling empty and hollow.

You know your wine has run out when you face profound disappointment, when things don’t work out like you expected and you feel as if the best days of your life are lost, never to come again.

You know your wine has run out when your life reaches a place where you are reduced to saying, “What happened? How did I get here?”

Several years ago I took a trip to Switzerland with my dad and stepmom. My stepmom’s family comes from there and we were trying to find some of the villages that her family came from generations ago. We got on a train and about 6 p.m. found ourselves at the end of the line, in a little village nestled in the mountains; it was picturesque and so peaceful. We were the only ones on that train, and the station was closed and so we carried our luggage and went to the police station across the street. The officer looked at us with curiosity and we were grateful he spoke some English as my German wasn’t very good. We told him we were looking for a place to stay and he said, “I’m sorry, nothing is open, nothing is available, and the train doesn’t leave until the morning.” We looked at each other and said, “What happened? How did we get here?” We were in a predicament. I think he could see the panic on our faces as we tried to remain calm and he said, “Hold on,” as he picked up the phone. This was a really small village and three minutes later he said the owner of the only hotel (three rooms) was willing to let us stay there, but there would be no amenities, just a bed to sleep in and a shower in the morning. We were grateful!

We walked there, and found the place to be quaint and beautiful, with a view of the snow-covered mountains, a church steeple, and you could hear the bells of the cows on the hillside. We showed him our gratitude and told him our story of why we were there and about 10 minutes later he knocked on our door and said the family was having fondue and would we want to join them for dinner – fabulous!

Metaphorically speaking, the wine ran out on our trip on that dead end and we were left in the mire of “what happened?” But when the wine did run out, to our great joy we encountered a generous and creative presence that gave us new hope, and revived our spirits and filled our souls. What could have been a very scary time turned out to be one of the best memories of that trip!

Could this be a huge part of John’s purpose for telling this story as the event that begins Jesus’ public ministry? For John’s community of faith, their old, narrow views and religious had left them in a dead-end state of “What happened? How did we get here?” Jesus turned them around to go a more life-giving way.

The wine will run out. But when it does, we are not alone. The creative energy of the risen Christ is there to fill our empty jars with sweet new wine, to bring new life, new hope and new direction. And like he kept the best for last, he invites us to “Love our enemies” “Forgive 70X7” “Turn the other cheek” “Do not judge” “Follow me!” and many, many more.

This invitation might seem counterintuitive, and I encourage you this morning to not only hear his invitation, but also hear the encouragement of his mother, “Do whatever he tells you.” If you do, you just might be surprised and even transformed beyond your wildest expectations and enjoy the taste of new life and new hope and new joy! Amen.

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A chain reaction of love http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/05/13/a-chain-reaction-of-love/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/05/13/a-chain-reaction-of-love/#respond Thu, 14 May 2015 03:29:24 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=60251

istock

As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

I love kids. When I was growing up I decided I wanted to have five kids; I don’t know why that number exactly. Upon graduation from college, I started to hear from parents and grandparents, “It sure would be nice to have some babies in the family!” Well, I knew in my heart of hearts that I wasn’t going to get married any time soon, if ever (being married to a man wasn’t even a possibility in the ‘80s), and I was the eldest of three boys, so I was feeling some pressure. Thank God for my brothers; they took all the pressure off me as they succeeded to have 10 children between the two of them! Woo hoo! Now I’m Uncle Dan and that’s fantastic!

I have great admiration for parents. I’ll never know the amount of work and dedication they put into their parenting skills. It’s a huge investment.

It’s amazing how fast kids grow up. Starting out as precious little babies, aww, so cute! There are so many “firsts” to be witnessed; holding her head up, rolling over, standing up, then taking his first steps and those first words, “Pastor Dan!”

Then come the twos! Maybe you’ve heard of this phrase, “the terrible twos!” Well, that might be a little too harsh, so there’s another “T” word that might describe this developmental stage; how about “the terrific twos!” The dictionary defines “terrific” as “extraordinary or intense in either a positive or negative sense.” The twos are terrific because there’s so much emerging in this little life all at the same time: physically, psychologically, emotionally and cognitively. It’s quite amazing when you think about it and “terrific” in that sense.

And it’s also “terrific” in another sense, and there are some other T words that come to mind like, tiresome, tough, taxing, tricky and trying and testing!

Two year olds are trying out everything, and in the process of “trying” out their developing personalities, intense curiosity and increasing skills; they “test” their parents and grandparents (whether from their family of origin or family of choice).

Kids at any age can be adorable, and at the two-stage they can be totally charming with their big eyes, beautiful hair and killer smile; and when they push the envelope and push their limits and they have to be told “no”, something else develops; a unique style of defiance. “No you cannot have that right now, close the refrigerator.” And then they pause, and look back at you with those big eyes and flash that charming smile and then proceed to do the denied thing anyway! Ha!

That’s where consistent disciplinary skills are employed; firm on one hand and loving on the other. When kids push the envelope many things go on in the parent or guardian. They are presented with an opportunity and this defiance either brings out the worst or the best. The defiance becomes a defining moment for everyone involved and it can cause a chain reaction of emotions, for better or worse.

Well, Jesus and his disciples intentionally pushed the edge of the sacred envelope of their religion, and in the process, pushed the hot buttons of the core leadership of the religion. The way the Pharisees looked at things, Jesus and his disciples were being defiant, especially in regards to respecting and honoring Sabbath Law, which was at the very heart and core of their religion. There were a whole series of rules, regulations and restrictions of things that were not permitted on the Sabbath; restrictions that were sacred and holy and were considered integral to honoring the Sabbath and fundamental to orthodox religious expression. I remember as a kid, we couldn’t mow the lawn on Sundays!

I like how Rev. J. Holub puts it, “By intentionally and defiantly stepping over those sacred lines and boundaries, Jesus provided the critical mass that yielded the opportunity for the best or the worst to come out in those around him.”

In the Pharisees, the religious authorities and those who represented the power structure, unfortunately, the worst came out and they rejected Jesus and his teachings. “The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.” Not only did it bring out the worst in them, but the worst of the worst.

The religious of Jesus’ day, as represented by the authorities and hierarchy, could only see Jesus as a defiant, trouble-making, rabble-rousing enemy to be destroyed. Jesus was a threat to the tight little religious box in which they lived; so it came down to either their neat little box, or him and they chose their box.

The end of Mark 2 says, “No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”

What Mark is saying, right at the beginning of his Gospel, is that he and his faith community were experiencing something radically new in Jesus; something not based in law and legalism; not based in restrictions of what you could or could not do; not based on hierarchical power structures; not based on a narrow-minded mentality, not based on rigid morality codes, not based on a dualistic mindset of who is included and who is excluded, clean and unclean; righteous and sinner; in or out.

What they experienced in Jesus so radically transcended the political and religious culture of his day that it could only be described as putting new wine into new wineskins. Jesus did not come to patch up a stuck religion and power-based politics, but he came bringing a whole new life; a paradigm that challenged the old one in every aspect and at every turn in the road.

Jesus eventually triggered a chain reaction of love in the lives of those who encountered him. Jesus transcended religion and saw the face of the Divine even in the most feared and despised; the lowest and the last and the least.

Jesus’ primary mission was not to get people to believe the legalistic correct things that would, “poof”, transport them to heaven, rather, he lived and taught through his words and actions, to make people whole in love, and that love would bring the realm of heaven into the world right now.

Jesus opens us up to live every moment to the fullest, to live with a consciousness of God’s amazing grace that is transformational in how we see and relate to those around us, in contrast to religion that is often held captive by its unbending and correctness of beliefs rather than the freedom of living with compassion and Christ-like love.

Jesus is our model for care, compassion and community. May we continue to teach and practice the Good News of God’s unconditional love for all people. May we welcome home those who have been spiritually wounded or are seeking or growing a relationship with God. May we actively promote equality and justice for all people and be fully engaged in our own growth and be present with others on their spiritual journey to hope, healing and wholeness. Let’s begin a chain reaction of love! Amen.

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Let’s join our hearts for change in our world http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/05/06/lets-join-our-hearts-for-change-in-our-world/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/05/06/lets-join-our-hearts-for-change-in-our-world/#respond Thu, 07 May 2015 02:56:23 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=59984

istock

As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

A time of celebration, of rejoicing! A time of shouting “Hosanna” and singing and dancing! Jesus enters Jerusalem; the anticipatory crowds were hopeful that Jesus was going to deliver them from the Roman Empire that was ruling this land. Jesus knew why he was coming to Jerusalem, and that this would be his final entrance before being crucified – and he wasn’t full of doom and gloom. Was he somewhat serious? Probably. He was living life with purpose and intentionality. He was living life to the fullest! He was living in the present moment; and that let all of those around him live in the moment too!

Recently many people celebrated Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week. It’s where the passion of Christ is lived out. It’s a passion that led to a journey of unconditional love. May our hearts be sensitive to God’s Spirit as we journey with Jesus. And when it feels like it’s the saddest and loneliest time, the stone is rolled away by resurrection power! Hope and Love usher in New Life and we are not alone!

Sometimes it’s in the silence of our hearts that we can experience God’s presence and unconditional love. Take a moment; find a place of quiet solitude, still your heart and your mind as best as you can.

As you pray, sit in the quiet; be open to God’s presence of holy love and all-goodness. During this time, know that you are united with spiritual sufficiency; there is nothing too big or too small for God; be assured that your needs are met out of the pure love of God.

The unconditional love of God’s Divine Spirit in the universe expressing through you will continue to bless you in every area of your life. Unconditional love is always there, in every human being and every situation, available to bless and to prosper.

Let’s join our hearts for change in our world and let it begin with us. Change for more love and compassion. Peace in our world. Racial tensions to ease, bridges of understanding and love being built. Marriage equality to become the law of the land. Restoration of home and lives after natural disasters and in war-torn lands. The list goes on and on.

Let’s join our hearts for change in our world, and let it begin with us. Amen.

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A VIP (Vibrant, Inclusive and Progressive) church http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/04/30/a-vip-vibrant-inclusive-and-progressive-church/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/04/30/a-vip-vibrant-inclusive-and-progressive-church/#respond Thu, 30 Apr 2015 17:06:29 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/04/30/a-vip-vibrant-inclusive-and-progressive-church/

istock

As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

Through a series of Holy Conversations our guiding documents were created to inspire and inform a clear sense of mission, and a powerful vision to bring transformation and blessing to many more people in the years ahead.

We are an open and affirming progressive Christian community of faith. Our mission is to bring people closer to God and one another.

Core values are principles that guide our behavior. Our core values represent our most cherished beliefs and principles. Our core values are inclusion, community, spiritual transformation and justice.

Inclusion: Love is our greatest moral value. Inclusion is a primary focus of our ministry. We want to be conduits of faith where everyone is included in the family of God. We believe that all people, as they are and where they are, should be welcomed at God’s table.

Community: Our deep desire is to offer a safe and open community for people to worship, learn and grow in their faith. We are committed to equipping ourselves and each other to do the work that God has called us to do in the world.

We don’t want to become stagnant in our faith. As we live our faith through learning together, asking questions, being stretched in our thinking, we grow together. There are so many gifted people – you’ve been uniquely gifted – and I strongly encourage you to discover your gift, grow your gift, then share your gift. Not only will you be blessed, others will too!

Spiritual transformation: A message of liberation guides our ministry. We believe that when people are invited to experience God through the life and ministry of Christ, lives will be transformed.

We come to Christ just as we are, and we are changed by what we find. We experience a loving God with open arms, inviting all to take the sacred journey of faith and transformation. We are growing in our faith and claim that our place in society magnifies our place in God’s family. We are one of the many voices of God that, until recently in history, has been lost in the margins.

Justice: We are committed to uplifting all people and standing with those who suffer under the weight of oppressive systems. We are guided by our commitment to global human rights.

This is why we stand up for marriage equality, equal rights for women, support and give to Uptown Faith Community Service Center for the under-employed, work with The LGBT Center in AIDS education, serve on advisory boards for the mayor of San Diego and the San Diego County Sheriff and have been asked to hold church services for our transgender sisters at George Bailey Detention Facility; and the list goes on! We have an unfinished calling.

Our statement of vision gives us a picture of what we will look like in the years ahead if we fulfill our mission of bringing people closer to God and one another. Our vision is a view of the ideal state of this church and the impact it will have on us and our community.

Our vision is to be a vibrant, inclusive, progressive community of faith that transforms lives and transforms the world. A VIP church!

As a vibrant church: We will increasingly become a place to grow and a place to give. More people will become engaged in our mission and ministries by discovering their gifts and developing their strengths. As an engaged church many will be inspired to passionately live out their life’s purpose. A symphony of talents will produce the transforming harmony of grace and love.

“A place to grow – and a place to give.” I like that phrase. One of our strategic plans for the years ahead is to increase the number of people who are engaged in the mission and ministries of our church.

As an inclusive church: We will meet people where they are on their spiritual journey. People who encounter us will experience authentic hospitality and affirming love. We will grow in diversity.

We are called to greet people with open arms, show them love, and offer them generous hospitality. There are no regulations or hoops you have to go through in order to come to God’s table of Holy Communion – a table of all-inclusive love. And as we welcome all people we will grow in diversity. My prayer is that more and more people, from all walks of life, will come and see someone like them.

As a progressive church, we will be a beacon for equality and a force for social change. We will make a positive difference in our community and beyond. We will build bridges of understanding and cooperation with people on other spiritual paths. As we give voice to our passion for justice, we will share in the transformation of the world. Praise God!

Jesus led the way in acts of compassion and acts of justice. And because we have been a people in the margins, we understand more fully the grace of God extended to us. We continually seek to distance ourselves from exclusion and draw ourselves, including all those who are marginalized in any way, ever closer to a loving God.

This is who we are – together, let’s deepen our experience of the Divine through our acts of service, sharing our talents and giving of ourselves (time, talent and treasure). As we transform ourselves, we can’t help but transform the world around us. Through our church and our connection with MCC Global Outreach, we are advancing human rights and social justice around the globe.

Through your support and sharing your gifts we nurture and support a faith community free of judgments and self-righteousness, where Scripture is used not as a weapon to restrict, but as a bridge to understanding between all people.

Let’s continue to be MCC – a VIP (Vibrant, Inclusive and Progressive) church, bringing people closer to God and one another! Amen.

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With God there are no coincidences http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/04/23/with-god-there-are-no-coincidences/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/04/23/with-god-there-are-no-coincidences/#respond Thu, 23 Apr 2015 17:44:54 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/04/23/with-god-there-are-no-coincidences/

iStock

As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

Recently, Lee Bowman, the minister of administration for MCC San Diego, preached a powerful and poignant sermon. I wanted to share it with you – I know you’ll be blessed for reading it. Blessings, Pastor Dan

True story. Two years ago 75-year-old Marion Shurtleff went into a Christian bookstore in San Clemente and, at the last minute, picked up a couple used Bibles for her study group. Looking at them at home she noticed some old folded papers in one. It was a month before she took time to look at it them, and when she did she got what was no doubt the greatest shock of her life.

She recognized the writing right away and turned pale. You see, it was an essay that she had written some 65 years before as a Girl Scout in Covington, Kentucky 2,000 miles away. And while the Bible was old, it wasn’t printed until some 28 years after she wrote her essay! How did it get there and to her? An unbelievable coincidence … or was this an astounding God moment, a God wink?

Let us pray: God, it is no accident that you are here in our midst today. Guide my words and all of hearts to hear what you have to say to us this morning.

The 13th century mystic and poet Rumi said, “Life is like a gorgeous tapestry with each of us a thread. We can’t possibly see how it’s all being woven together, but I now know we can get glimpses through coincidence.” And I don’t think he was talking about what we commonly think of ‘coincidence’ but something much deeper and more meaningful and intimate.

In your tapestries, I bet each of you has stories, maybe not as dramatic as Marion Shurtleff’s, some you’ve perhaps never shared with anyone. It may be a phone call out of the blue from an old friend or an encounter at just the right place in just the right moment. Or it may come in the lyrics of a song, lyrics you then can’t get out of your head, or a poem. Maybe even a billboard or bumper sticker. Or, like a good friend of mine in Iowa that never liked cats, you have this absolutely amazing cat come into your life and now has for his water bowl a martini glass. Or you’re in a theater watching a movie and suddenly some words speak to you, and a big gigantic light bulb goes on, so bright you’re worried it’s disturbing the other theatergoers. It’s a little epiphany. Something has helped you connect some dots in your life, something has spoken to you. Or someone.

Have you written off such things as chance or coincidence or accident, fate or luck? Why? I’m serious, why? Did you feel that maybe, just maybe God was winking at you, really touching your heart and it was a little scary and if you told anyone, that they’d want to send you off to Shady Pines?

Woody Allen once said, “If only God would give me some clear sign! Like making a large deposit in my name at a Swiss bank.” I don’t think that’s ever happened to you, but if it does, let us know. And please, tithe on it.

But we’re not Woody Allen skeptics. We’re people of faith. If we believe that God makes no mistakes – and we say that right on our Pride T-shirts – If we believe that God knows the number of hairs on our head, notices the lilies of the field and the sparrow that falls to the ground – then it’s not a giant leap to believe that with God there are no coincidences. If we believe God is only present in the big, splashy Hollywood-production type events in the world, isn’t that limiting God, depersonalizing a personal God?

Why is it easy for us to pray to God and believe God hears us … and we do believe that, right? And yet be skeptical that God talks back – through people, through song, through nature? Does God only hear and not speak? Is our relationship with God just a one-way street?

I believe God led me from Michigan to Denver, Colorado, some 35 years ago, which directly led me to coming out and finding MCC. Some of you know my story that as a man just beginning the coming out process, I walked into MCC of the Rockies, on my third attempt by the way, on just the Sunday that guest preacher Rev. Freda Smith was delivering her famous “Purple Grass” sermon, the perfect message for me to hear. I have always felt – no, I have always known – that I was meant to be there in that exact place on that exact Sunday. Nothing and no one can convince me otherwise. I believe God led me, called me, beamed me, whatever you want to name it, to be here in San Diego. Coincidences? No. Because these were events that impacted and totally changed my life. Deeply.

I find God moments in little things. When our friend Kaki Johnson always spoke here about living in the moment. When I hear Oscar Morris say “All is in divine order.” Words like “Namaste” call to me. When a blank page turns into words and sentences, that speaks to me. When I’m in the mountains or in Hawaii … everything speaks to me! Or walking at night in the park or at the harbor. Sometimes we just have to get away from all the noise and hubbub of life to hear it, to the mountains, the ocean, the desert or a meditation garden.

Much of the time when I go out walking or hiking, I don’t know exactly where I’m heading. Sometimes I just let the spirit guide me. Yet, 80-85 percent of the time I realize I’m just where I am meant to be. It may be the view or the peace and serenity or an inspiration or some words that come to me but it is a genuine sensation of fulfillment. One not explained or dismissed by the words chance or coincidence. (Indeed parts of this message came to me and got entered into my cellphone while hiking.)

In our Scripture from Jeremiah God tells us that there are plans for us, for our peace, not harm, for a future with hope. That, when we seek … or allow … God will let us find that holy presence. ‘Plans’ don’t sound like accidents; ‘hope’ doesn’t sound like something left to chance; and ‘God’ here doesn’t sound like some remote entity that has forgotten about us and not part of our life.

Words that have always spoken have in some way guided my life are from Robert Frost’s “The Road Less Traveled.” I know them by heart.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

In the movie The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which by the way, is almost as good as the first one, one of the elderly characters is being courted by two wealthy Indian gentlemen. Both have proposed and she’s having a difficult time deciding between the two. In one poignant scene her driver is taking her to visit one or the other and he keeps asking her, right or left, do we turn right or left? What she ultimately decides is truly a beautiful God moment, one I won’t spoil for you.

Yet, when we’re confronted with that proverbial fork in the road, whether it’s a move or a job or a person or just which trail to take, our ultimate choice is not by accident or whim or coincidence. Just be aware that when we’re deciding between A and B, that with God guiding us, the answer just, just might end up being C. And if so, go with it knowing that the C stands for confidence and connection, not coincidence.

One final true story. Some 16 years ago after living here just a few months, I was pumping gas at the Emerald station on El Cajon Blvd at lunch time near our old church on 30th Street. A guy in a tie-dye shirt in the next lane and I looked at each other and had the same thought: Do I know you? Have we met? While the answers were ‘no’, we chatted and ever since, Michael Sayre has been one of my dearest friends, a kind of spiritual guru to me and we’ve been mirrors for each other. All by a chance meeting at a gas station. Oh, wait, excuse me. I don’t believe for a second that that was by chance.

I sometimes wonder, as we all probably do, how different, how less rich my life would be if I hadn’t gone to Colorado or not been at that Emerald gas station at just that moment on that certain day. But you know, that’s irrelevant. That’s not how the story happened. That’s not the way it happened to Marion Shurtleff in San Clemente. And it’s not the way it’s happened for you many, many times.

Rumi also said, “We do act but everything we do is God’s creative action.” Everything we do is God’s creative action. That also doesn’t sound like much of a coincidence.

What I hope you take from this sharing today is as simple as this. What is accidental from our perspective is specifically allowed by God. Don’t be so easy to write off as flukes the little miracles that happen in your life; or some genuine inspiration or meeting someone, whether they are in your life temporarily or for a lifetime, as just pure fate. Whether you agree with me or not, don’t be so ready to dismiss that still small voice within that urges you to go somewhere or do something or call someone or take this road or that road. OK, if that small voice is telling you to have that 800-calorie Death-by-Chocolate dessert or buy a Maserati, that might not be God talking to you. Use a little discretion.

But be open to the possibilities. Be fully present and aware. Trust your heart a little more and your mind a little less. Seize the God moments. Go with them, grow with them. And that if this has spoken to you, please don’t write it off as a coincidence.

Let us pray: Thank you, God, for this time together. And whatever we take from here, may it be with your blessing, love and grace. Amen.

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Bringing people closer to God and one another http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/04/16/bringing-people-closer-to-god-and-one-another/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/04/16/bringing-people-closer-to-god-and-one-another/#respond Thu, 16 Apr 2015 16:42:14 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/04/16/bringing-people-closer-to-god-and-one-another/

The Metropolitan Community Church, San Diego

As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

In every church and organization it’s important to periodically engage in what we call Holy Conversations; an intentional time of focusing on the future to carefully and prayerfully consider our identity as a congregation and also to discern what we are called to become and be doing in the years ahead.

At the heart of this process was a series of three congregational forums and two online congregational surveys. It was an opportunity for the whole church to be involved. The purpose of this process was “to inspire and inform a clear sense of mission, and a powerful vision to bring transformation and blessing to many more people in the years ahead.”

One of the truths revealed in our Holy Conversations is that we are, indeed, a progressive Christian community of faith. Initially, MCC was started to be a “church” for all of those in the LGBT community who were disenfranchised from or kicked out of the churches they grew up in. MCC was founded in, and now reaching beyond, the LGBTQ community. We are in the business of transforming ourselves as we transform the world.

MCC San Diego is an open and affirming progressive faith community. We believe God values everyone and leaves no one out. We believe in a God who is concerned with every human being personally and accepts each one with unconditional love.

Many here have found their connection to God through the life, teachings, and ministry of Jesus Christ. Jesus is our model for care, compassion and community. We also recognize and respect those who find their connection to God though other spiritual paths. We are not spiritual elitists. This is being inclusive.

Jesus connected with and respected people from all walks of life, and different beliefs, and no beliefs at all. One of the principles of Progressive Christianity is to find the unity and sacredness of all life by following the path of Jesus and also, to find value from other sources of wisdom.

We believe one of the ways in which God speaks to us is through the Bible. We consider its accounts and teachings in light of their historical and cultural context. Remember that phrase that many theologians use: “I take the Bible seriously, not literally.” It is an inspired book that has withstood the test of time. We remember also, that it was written by people over many centuries – and as we look at the timeless truths in the Bible we view them in this light.

We are guided by Jesus’ teaching of the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” And the greatest Commandments: “Love God with all your heart; and love your neighbor as yourself.”

I love this! Can you imagine if the whole world would live by these words of Jesus? May we strive to do this here at The Met. Imagine the energy of healing and love that would permeate everything we do. This really sums up the saying by Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.”

Our mission is to bring people closer to God and one another. Concise. To the point. Powerful! And most important, easy to remember!

Reiterating what you, as a church, affirmed: “We are an open and affirming faith community. With roots in the teachings and spiritual practices of Christianity, we are also respectful of the rich wisdom of other faith traditions.”

This is why we offer classes about other faith traditions and sacred teachings – in order to build bridges, to focus on the similarities, not to point out the differences in an elitist approach.

Here at MCC San Diego, we affirm each individual as a unique and gifted creation of God. Building on our history of celebrating diversity in sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity, we are a congregation that welcomes all people. Our two fastest growing demographics are our transgendered and heterosexual sisters and brothers! I celebrate that!

Therefore, in fulfilling our mission of bringing people closer to God and one another, we are called to:

Teach and practice the Good News of God’s unconditional love for all people.

Welcome home those who have been spiritually wounded or are seeking or growing a relationship with God.

Actively promote equality and justice for all people.

Be fully engaged in our own growth and with others on their spiritual journey to hope, healing and wholeness.

In a nutshell, we are called to be light to God’s unconditional love for all people – come just as you are.

Our Scripture reading this morning talks about God’s unconditional love: “For God so loved the world that God gave us Jesus, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” I also like the King James Version of this, “… that whosoever believeth in him …”

That leaves no one out! So many people have been hurt by church and religion. We have a great opportunity when we hear conversations like this to say, “You should try out my church, I’ll bring you, I’ll save you a seat.” No, we are not perfect. There is no perfect church! However, I sure can get behind a mission statement like this and I want to do all I can to bring people closer to God and one another. Amen.

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Living life to the fullest http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/04/09/living-life-to-the-fullest/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/04/09/living-life-to-the-fullest/#respond Thu, 09 Apr 2015 18:59:57 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/04/09/living-life-to-the-fullest/

Kristoffer Kennelly

As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

Recently, we had Kristoffer Kennelly, a congregant at The Met, share his journey upon receiving a diagnosis and prognosis for cancer after having found a lump in his lymph nodes. It was so very powerful; I wanted to share it with you.

Kristoffer grew up Mormon (LDS) and remembered when he was 19, on his first mission trip to Japan, going into the home of an elegant elderly woman. His more seasoned LDS companion was doing the talking and was trying to get in the house to have a deeper conversation. The wise woman thanked them for stopping by and almost ignoring her, Kristoffer’s companion kept on talking, she had to interrupt him and wisely said, “We have a saying here, there are many paths leading up to the top of Mount Fuji, and each one has to find their own path.” Kristoffer heard the wisdom in this and stopped his companion from talking. They left her house and Kristoffer knew he was living someone else’s path and he left his mission trip and the LDS.

Years later, he is invited to Metropolitan Community Church (The Met) by a co-worker. He would zip in and zip out – and one Sunday he ran into someone he had dated years and years ago – they reconnected and it was true love. Kristoffer married David! Aww! It was a beautiful wedding ceremony. They opened up a pub and life was busy, full and blessed; then the lump was discovered.

Kristoffer’s first reaction was one of anger, then grief, then loss and fear. He talked about looking at the holes in his life due to this diagnosis and prognosis and then he had a mental clearing and a soul’s baptism. The holes became places of wholeness! He realized he had been given a blessing by having mortality look him in the face. His entire perspective changed.

So now, he wakes up in the morning determined to live each day to the fullest. Sunsets have become more precious to him – as they symbolize the end of a day and an opportunity for him to reflect on what he did that was positive for him and for others that day. He then shared several things he does that help him not only live and love life, but to live in the now. Here they are (in his words):

First and foremost, I see myself as whole, not a disease.

I no longer feel the need or desire to control anything outside of me.

I take nothing for granted, not time, people or dreams.

I see the blessings and magic in everything around me, the good, the bad, the happy and the scary.

I go within for answers instead of placing blame or pointing fingers.

I recognize greatness in others, even when they don’t see it themselves.

I respond more and react less.

I no longer fear my moments alone and treasure the time of gentle contemplation (prayer is speaking to God, meditation is listening to God).

I don’t hold back tears, for joy or sorrow. They are the baptism of my soul.

I nurture my strengths and lovingly accept my weaknesses.

I no longer see lack in my world, but beautiful abundance.

I wake each day with “yes” on my lips. Yes I can. Yes I am happy. Yes I am fulfilled and blessed.

I take moments daily, to breathe. Just a moment to find that place of light.

Thank you, Kristoffer, for bravely sharing your journey. It is inspiring. God bless you!

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Resurrection power http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/04/02/resurrection-power/ http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/04/02/resurrection-power/#respond Thu, 02 Apr 2015 14:41:46 +0000 http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/04/02/resurrection-power/

Giotto: The resurrection of Jesus

As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!

There’s a story about a little boy who lived with his grandfather. They were country folk and actually quite poor. The grandfather’s small cottage had fallen into disrepair and he wasn’t much of a housekeeper. The little house was dark and dusty and stale. But it was home.

One day, a stranger, a small woman with a sweet smile, came up to the little boy in the park and handed him a lily. And then she walked away. Not thinking much of it, the little boy took the lily home to his grandfather. The grandfather put the flower in a mason jar and placed the jar in the window. Compared to the clean jar, the window looked really filthy. So, the grandfather cleaned the window, which of course, also allowed more light into the room.

The extra light in the room exposed the dirt on the floor. So, the grandfather had his grandson sweep the floor and then came behind him with a mop and mopped the floor. Well, a clean window and natural lighting and a freshly mopped floor seem to require something a bit nicer than a mason jar for the flower, so the grandfather found a vase hidden away in a cupboard and put the lily in it and placed it back in the window.

That one little flower had really made such a difference to their entire living environment, the grandfather decided they should have more flowers. So, the next day, he spaded up a bed of dirt in the front yard and his grandson planted some seeds.

Within a few months, the flowers are gorgeous and grandfather and his grandson have manicured the entire lawn and it becomes so pleasant that neighbors just stop by to admire the flowers and talk to the small family. The sad, lonely two person family living in squalor had transformed their lives into an experience of beauty and celebration and they even made friends in the process.

Now, by this time, the lily that a kind stranger gave the boy is long dead. But the house is clean, the lawn has been transformed into a beautiful garden, and both grandfather and grandson now have friends in their lives. The flower died, but the difference it made in two people’s lives never did.

Friends, that’s resurrection power! Lives are changed, renewed, energized and made whole. That’s divine life being expressed. That’s dawn overcoming the long night. That’s the beautiful butterfly emerging from its cocoon.

I love resurrection stories! And I love that there are so many of them!

There are the fairy tales like where Sleeping Beauty falls into what appears to be a lifeless state until true love’s kiss revives her, restoring her to the world of the living. “Someday my prince will come!”

And there are many more resurrection narratives in our sacred Scriptures. In I Kings 17 the prophet Elijah raises a widow’s dead son back to life. In the New Testament, Jesus resurrects a 12-year-old girl who has died (Mark 5), and he raises his dear friend Lazarus back to life after he has died (John 11).

And not only does Jesus do this in the New Testament, but Peter raises Tabitha back to life (Acts 9) and later, a young man accidentally falls to his death from a third story window and Paul raises him back to life (Acts 20).

If there are so many resurrection stories why are so many drawn to the story of Jesus?

In Mark’s gospel, “Who, here, experiences the resurrection?” Well, we read that Jesus is missing from the tomb and all we see is his absence. This is how the oldest of Jesus’ resurrection stories reads. Later versions will add some post-resurrection encounters. So, back to the question, “Who experiences the resurrection?”

The young man at the tomb and the three women who come to visit, they are the ones who are experiencing Jesus’ resurrection. They are there to honor and remember their loved one. They are realizing that his importance cannot be destroyed. They are discovering that who he really is and what he really meant to them cannot be held in a tomb. And so now they must take their experience of Jesus’ resurrection and do something with it.

The power of Jesus’ resurrection is that his victory is really ours! The tomb is empty. Now what? Now move forward. Keep working. Keep doing what you’re called to do.

The young man at the tomb tells the women to return to Galilee, and that Jesus is going ahead of them. I love that line! Jesus paved the way for them. Their job is to continue on the path. The empty tomb means that we now must go forward and keep doing the work that Jesus did of empowering people, of celebrating the sacred value of all people, of offering hope and healing, of demanding justice for all.

Mark says the women were afraid. They didn’t even know what to say, “For terror and amazement had seized them.” This version of the resurrection story doesn’t end with easy answers or even certainty, just a calling. A calling to keep going. Keep moving. Keep doing. Keep making a difference.

On this Resurrection Day, it’s now our job to be Christ in the world. We are now the hands and feet of Christ; and as the young man in the empty tomb said, Jesus has been raised from the dead and is going ahead of you. That’s good news!

When we show compassion, when we challenge racism, when we resist homophobia, when we affirm that all people, without exception, have sacred value and no one is ever beyond the reach of God’s love, we are sharing resurrection power and we are letting the light of Christ shine through us.

Jesus’ resurrection reminds us that life is more than just the number of years we have on this earth. If God is omnipresent, if grace is true, then life doesn’t really end at death for any of us. We have a hope and an eternal future. The power of Jesus’ resurrection is that others share it; they experience it, and then are called to action because of it.

Easter is real and relevant every time we share hope, compassion, generosity, forgiveness and goodwill to all. The facts can be debated, but the truth is our experience.

Because we are committed to being the living, loving, justice-seeking presence of Christ on earth, we can say with total confidence, “Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed.

Alleluia!”

Amen.

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